Working hand in hand for heart health and beyond
Discover how MiRXES and its partners are developing early detection tests to fight the world’s leading cause of death: heart disease.
Battling COVID-19 may currently be the world’s top priority, but it shouldn’t overshadow the other conditions and diseases that take millions of lives each year. Take diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, collectively known as cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Each year, CVDs account for around 17.9 million deaths—making them the leading cause of death globally.
While these statistics may sound alarming, there’s no reason to panic just yet. After all, an estimated 80 percent of all CVDs are preventable. Through proactive screening and early detection, individuals at risk of developing CVD can be identified and encouraged to take up healthier habits. Still, due to their vague symptoms—particularly in women—diagnosing CVDs early is sometimes easier said than done.
To circumvent this, MiRXES is tapping upon tiny molecules found in our cells and bloodstream called microRNA or miRNA that help regulate gene expression. As abnormal miRNA levels are typically associated with disease, miRNA can be used as biomarkers to make diagnosis possible even at the earliest stages.
Fighting the world’s biggest killer, however, is still a hefty task. To rise up to the challenge, we are teaming up with partners and collaborators from the industry, academia and clinics around the world—this time, to unlock the potential of miRNA in diagnosing CVDs.
Overcoming a silent killer
Though we often associate CVDs with heart attacks and strokes, they can also take the form of pulmonary hypertension (PH), a condition where high blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs can lead to heart failure and death.
Currently, PH diagnosis relies on the measurement of a biomarker called N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide, or NT-proBNP for short. This biomarker, however, appears to be elevated in patients with almost any type of heart disease—limiting its use in the early detection of PH. Due to the difficulties in diagnosing the condition, many cases of PH are missed or even mistaken for asthma.
Partnering with Actelion Pharmaceuticals Ltd (Actelion), one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, we embarked on a study investigating the potential of miRNA biomarker signatures in the early identification and diagnosis of PH as compared to NT-proBNP. After assessing 245 plasma samples from various patient populations including those with PH and those without, miRNAs outperformed NTproBNP in distinguishing patients with PH.
Building on this progress, Janssen has initiated the CIPHER trial, which aims to identify miRNA biomarker signatures for early detection of PH. Additional clinical studies are being planned in Asia to provide further evidence to support the test.
A proven track record
The PH study with Janssen was not MiRXES’ first foray into the cardiovascular field. Together with Singapore’s Cardiovascular Research Institute in a study published in March 2019, we explored how miRNAs could be used to improve tools for identifying non-acute heart failure.
Because of their gradual onset and non-specific symptoms, non-acute heart failure is difficult to diagnose—much like PH. Patients are usually confirmed following ultrasound heart scans called echocardiograms, but these scans are difficult to analyze, requiring manual image sorting and multiple measurements. By combining miRNA biomarker signatures with NT-proBNP, our team helped create a test that could more accurately categorize the different heart failure subtypes.
With our track record of success from cancer to CVDs, MiRXES is looking forward to embarking on new partnerships. These partnerships could take the form of research collaborations to discover novel RNA biomarkers and create molecular diagnostics; co-development alliances to develop early screening tests and even intellectual property licensing to commercialize innovative diagnostics.
The world’s first national standard for validating miRNA-based diagnostics has also been published in August this year, following the establishment of the Working Group of miRNA standards composed of representatives from MiRXES, DxD Hub, the Health Sciences Authority and other sectors.
In the past six years, our company has profiled more than 40,000 patient samples and worked with over 30 partners globally to study over ten types of cancer and more than ten other major diseases. But all this is only the beginning. By working hand in hand with partners old and new, MiRXES will continue to make magic from miRNA and create innovative early detection tools to save lives all over the world.