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Early Detection Among Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs for 2007


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A Gaithersburg biotech finds itself in the company of brand names such as Wyeth, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline in Time magazine's top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2007.

Panacea Pharmaceuticals Inc. has won the honor this year for its lung cancer detection test, called LC Detect. A blood test first launched in July, Panacea's product measures the presence of a particular cancer molecular marker known to make an appearance at the onset of lung cancer. In its studies, the company found increased levels of that protein in the serum of 99 percent of lung cancer patients, but nearly nonexistent in more than 1,000 healthy cells.

In addition to chest x-rays and CT scans, a physician can extract a blood sample from a patient suspected of suffering from lung cancer, and ship that to Panacea, which has been testing the samples in its federally accredited lab since the summer for a fee.

The national magazine pinpointed the technology for its ability to diagnose lung cancer, the most fatal of cancers worldwide with more than 160,000 deaths expected this year, before it's too late.

"One reason lung cancer is so deadly is that by the time tumors are diagnosed, usually as a result of physical symptoms like coughing up blood, the cancer is often advanced and tough to treat," read the Time magazine description of LC Detect, ranked as #8 in the top-10 list, one of 50 in the entertainment, medical and business fields for the year. "A new blood test may improve the odds of catching the disease earlier, at a more curable stage."

That put Panacea in the same listing as a Johnson & Johnson company's breast cancer detection test, Sanofi Pasteur's first-ever bird flu vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline's first over-the-counter weight-loss drug, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals' menstruation-eliminating birth control pill and Pfizer's newly approved treatment for a complex arthritis-related condition. LC Detect also shared space with medical discoveries including a new stem cell source, diabetes genetic marker and the realizations that Vitamin D could prevent multiple sclerosis and circumcision could stem HIV.

The recognition "represents a significant milestone for Panacea and acknowledgment of the clinical importance of this diagnostic test," said Hossein Ghanbari, chairman, CEO and chief scientific officer of Panacea, in a statement.

Since this spring, Panacea has released similar blood tests to screen for prostate, breast and colon cancers, the latter test released in November. Earlier this month, Panacea selected a particular protein compound discovered in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to use in a new anticancer drug it now plans to start developing and testing on humans in early 2009. The Gaithersburg company has been hitting the worldwide circuit for its fifth round of funding.

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