New Breath Biopsy Panel May Help in COPD Diagnosis

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by Teresa Carvalho |

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Breath Biopsy

A new, noninvasive breath biopsy panel — dubbed “a Breathalyzer for disease” — can distinguish several airway disorders, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), its developer said.

Launched by Owlstone Medical, the panel may help in diagnosing COPD.

The tool, officially called the Respiratory Diseases Research Use Only (RUO) Panel, was created to support research into ways to distinguish between different chronic inflammatory airway diseases.

“The Respiratory Diseases RUO Panel is the first to be commercially launched by Owlstone Medical and opens an important new phase in the application of breath to address areas of high clinical need,” Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical, said in a press release.

In spite of the differences between chronic inflammatory airway diseases such as asthma, COPD, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), these disorders have similar symptoms and overlapping clinical features.

Moreover, there is a lack of economical and/or patient-friendly diagnostic techniques to correctly distinguish one from the other.

In addition, researchers say, despite the growing number of emerging treatments that target the underlying mechanisms of each disease, most are only effective in some patients; thus, a better understanding of the onset and development of these diseases is needed.

The Respiratory Diseases RUO Panel is based on the company’s breath biopsy system and uses a group of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as biomarkers for disease. VOCs are gases that result from the body’s metabolism and are released through breathing.

According to Owlstone, exhaled breath contains over 1,000 VOCs originated from the lungs and airways.

These compounds are considered biologically important because specific VOCs are released when an inflammatory respiratory disease occurs. Due to their disease-specificity, they allow a biological characterization of the disease. Moreover, VOCs are easy to collect on breath samples, which makes this a non-invasive sampling method.

In total, 17 studies using almost 4,000 breath samples were crucial in developing the core VOCs panel on this new tool, the company said. The developers selected the most specific and relevant VOCs as biomarkers for the different respiratory diseases that can be tested.

The panel is designed to be used for pharmaceutical and academic/clinical research purposes only. It aims to support the development of new therapies through the characterization of different types of disease and to improve the monitoring of patients and their response to treatment.

It initially will be offered as part of Owlstone’s breath biopsy products and services, and can be used as a supplement to the company’s Breath Biopsy OMNI Assay.

Of note, it is not the first time Owlstone has used VOCs as disease biomarkers. A specific VOC, called limonene, was used to assess the metabolic pathways underlying liver diseases; limonene levels are increased in patients with liver diseases.

“Building on our recent announcement on the use of limonene as an EVOC probe in [liver diseases], this Panel further validates our strategy of identifying promising biomarkers from multiple sources,” Boyle said.

Researchers also envision the development of an in vitro (in the lab) diagnostic test based on the RUO Panel that would enable clinicians to monitor patients’ therapeutic responses. That test might help in the therapeutic decision-making process.