How ProAxsis tracks pulmonary disease biomarkers in a new, innovative way

13 Jul 2016

TechWatch profiles Belfast healthcare company, ProAxsis. Photo via ProAxsis

TechWatch’s Emily McDaid introduces us to Queen’s University spin-out ProAxsis and its method of tracking and managing pulmonary diseases.

Many healthcare companies provide services, but not so with Belfast company ProAxsis, which has a product making huge advancements in the care of pulmonary diseases.

ProAxsis’s innovative ProteaseTags helps with the management of diseases of the lung. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis suffer from typical exacerbations when the disease flares up, causing lung infections that can require weeks-long hospital stays and IV antibiotics. ProAxsis’s test, based on ProteaseTags, potentially helps manage the disease by identifying when an exacerbation is oncoming, so the patient can be pre-treated with oral antibiotics and other medications out of hospital.

Future Human

“Our aim is to keep the patient well by tracking disease biomarkers and improving how the disease is managed,” said CEO David Ribeiro.

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How ProteaseTags work

In simple terms, a protease is any enzyme in the body that breaks down proteins. These processes are vital for most physiological functions but unregulated protease activity can occur during disease, typical of many disorders including COPD and cystic fibrosis. This activity, if tracked, is a ‘biomarker’ of disease, and ProteaseTags track these biomarkers.

“There are currently no assay systems for monitoring active proteases outside of academic labs,” said Ribeiro. “Our ProteaseTag technology rapidly provides a visual read-out of active proteases in complex biological samples with a high level of specificity and selectivity.”


Photo via ProAxsis

Point-of-care for patients

ProAxsis began life as a spin-out from Queen’s University School of Pharmacy, by founders Prof Brian Walker and Dr Lorraine Martin (who remain on the board).

The company is currently selling a lab-based immunoassay for the detection of neutrophil elastase as a biomarker of lung inflammation, launched in the second half of 2015. By next year, ProAxsis is looking to launch a point-of-care test for the same biomarker, making diagnostics much easier and faster for patients.

Patients can monitor themselves using this test – typically, around once per week – for improved disease management. Cystic fibrosis is only one of many lung conditions that it works for, with others including COPD and bronchiectasis.

ProAxsis’s lab-based assay tests are sold to researchers and pharmaceutical companies while the newer point-of-care test will directly touch the patient. The ProAxsis team is promoting it to home-based carers and healthcare professionals to get the word out.

‘We’re moving from being a clever scientific concept to a dynamic, promising commercial business’

Potential to scale

Ribeiro says this technology can be used for other diseases, including cancer, HIV, and cardiovascular disorders.

“There are a number of recognised biomarkers that we’re looking closely at,” he explained. “We began in the respiratory field because there is a strong heritage in this area at Queen’s but, as we expand, we have enormous potential to improve the monitoring of other diseases.”

David Ribeiro, ProAxsis

David Ribeiro, CEO, ProAxsis. Photo via ProAxsis

What’s next for ProAxsis?

ProAxsis spun out in 2013 and took seed investment from Qubis and NetScientific. Next month, they will be moving to offices at Catalyst Inc in Concourse III.

“We’ll have both a wet lab and an office space, and we’ll use it primarily for research on assays,” said Ribeiro. “We are currently fundraising a Series A round. We have exclusively licensed the intellectual property from the university, with approved patents in the EU and US, and another that is just being applied for.”

Ribeiro joined in October 2015 to drive the business forward in this exciting new phase. He said, “The way I characterise it, we’re moving from being a clever scientific concept to a dynamic, promising commercial business.”

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland