India's Strand Life Sciences launches blood test to detect cancer

BENGALURU, India (Reuters) - A small Indian company launched on Tuesday a blood test to detect a wide range of cancers at a fraction of the cost of similar diagnostics available in the United States.

Bengaluru-based Strand Life Sciences’ test is designed to decode genetic information, which in turn will assist doctors to match patients with treatments most likely to help with their particular type of cancer - an approach that is increasingly becoming the medical norm.

Strand’s tests will be sold for 20,000 Indian rupees ($310), while similar technology in the United States costs more than $3,000.

Normal and cancerous cells shed DNA into the blood when they die. Strand’s tests capture these DNA fragments to determine the presence of solid tumor cancers.

There are many advantages to this approach. Solid tumor cancers are typically diagnosed using invasive tissue biopsies or radioactive scans, which can be expensive, risky and ineffective.

Strand’s tests can find evidence of tumors in places inaccessible to surgeons, detect early signs of cancer recurrence and help doctors prescribe the appropriate therapy.

A 125-patient study showed that Strand’s technology could identify tumor traces in up to 35 percent of cases with early-stage cancer and 70-90 percent of cases with advanced cancer.

At least 1.5 million Indians are diagnosed with cancer each year and some 200,000 will be eligible and/or can afford this product, Strand CEO Ramesh Hariharan said, adding that he expects about 1,000 of its tests would be conducted each month by next year.

Researchers are focusing on developing a blood test used to identify early-stage cancers in people with no symptoms of the disease, something that has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.

Cowen & Co estimates that use of DNA blood tests for cancer screening will exceed $10 billion a year by the end of the decade.

Several companies around the world are developing or selling liquid biopsies. But existing technology in India is not well validated, and is mainly used in patients already diagnosed with a specific type of cancer or only to detect a few types of cancer.

Strand, founded by two professors at the Indian Institute of Science, collaborated with the Mazumdar Shaw Center for Translational Research, which is run by Biocon Ltd founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, to develop the blood tests.

($1 = 64.5500 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty