Actelion Teams up With Owlstone Medical to Create Breath Test to Diagnose PAH

Using the breath to diagnose disease is cost-effective, efficient and could save thousands of lives

10.06.2019 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

For those suffering from a disease, early-stage detection and diagnosis are crucial to tackling/managing the disease and increasing the rate of survival and chance of a healthy life.

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a progressive, cardiopulmonary disease where the blood pressure increases in the vessels that transport blood from the heart to the lungs, placing strain on the right side of the heart and often leading to heart failure. Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH) is a much rarer sub-set of the disease that occurs when the blood vessels in the lung are directly diseased (unlike the other forms of PH where the increased pressure is due to another reason like chronic lung or heart disease) and becomes thick and narrow.

Unfortunately, early diagnosis of PH and PAH is extremely challenging. Even at an advanced stage, it presents similarly to other heart and lung conditions, so years delay between the onset of symptoms, the diagnosis and treatment is common. Therefore, this is an urgent need for effective tools to facilitate screening and early diagnosis of patients presenting with early signs of PH and its sub-groups.

Owlstone Medical is a cutting edge MedTech company that has developed a breathalyzer for the early detection of cancer, inflammatory and infectious disease. Their patented “Breath Biopsy” technology could be a lifesaver for those with undiagnosed PH and PAH. They say that their mission is to “save 100,000 lives and $1.5B in healthcare costs.”


VOC Biomarkers

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from a patient’s breath, urine or other clinical samples paint a picture of a person’s metabolism, which can be used to diagnose diseases before other physical symptoms become apparent. Measurement of VOCs has many advantages over other types of diagnosis—they can be collected non-invasively from breath, VOC biomarkers are present even at the earliest stage of a disease, they directly reflect real-time disease activity and drug metabolites can be detected, allowing treatment to be monitored.


Why Breath?

Every time you breathe out, there are hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on your breath. Owlstone says that due to the rapid exchange of air between the lungs and the circulatory system, a person’s entire blood supply is sampled for VOCs once every minute. Therefore, within a short window, a comprehensive measurement of a person’s current metabolite status can be collected, providing a real-time and objective snapshot of a patient’s current medical state.


On 20th May 2019, it was announced that they would team up with Pharma Giant Actelion (who were recently acquired by the even bigger monolith Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson), a global leader in pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), “to discover and validate a breath-based test to help facilitate the early diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension and its subtypes,” stated Owlstone in their press release.  


“Owlstone Medical was founded with the objective of improving the early diagnosis of disease in order to save lives through the application of Breath Biopsy,” said Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical. “This strategic collaboration with Actelion, which is focused on improving the lives of those suffering from PH and PAH, represents a tremendous opportunity to do just that.  This is particularly true in underdiagnosed areas such as PH, where early diagnosis is difficult and so screening has to be simple, reliable, and cost-effective. We believe Breath Biopsy will deliver a program from discovery through to the launch of a test to the market, and this novel approach will make a real difference for the healthcare of patients suffering from PH.”


Jane Griffith’s the global head of Actelion, announced her excitement for the “unexpected collaboration” on LinkedIn last week:

The promise of breath biopsy is great. As the market leaders in this area, Owlstone’s technology can detect volatile metabolites in breath at part per billion levels, allowing for a wide range of real-world applications—they are particularly focused on the highly profitable and high-need area of oncology.

Other applications for this new age technology for chemical detection, which are marketed through Owlstone Inc, include detection of chemical warfare agents, water analysis and food freshness and flavour monitoring.

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Billy Boyle

Owstone Inc

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