One Step Ahead Of Cancer
Strand Life Sciences offers affordable, advanced genetic testing for cancer and inherited diseases.By Aatika H Jain
Five years ago, Dimple Bawa, Founder-President of Cheers to Life Foundation, an NGO that helps people battling cancer, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. She fought it bravely. Triple negative breast cancer is aggressive and tends to spread to other parts of the body quickly; it is prone to recur soon after treatment. It could be an inherited illness too. Three years after her fight with cancer, Bawa decided to undergo the genomic test, BRCA test,which could establish if hers was indeed inherited.
She tested positive for BRCA1 mutation, which meant she had 80 percent chances of breast cancer recurrence and 40 per cent chances of getting ovarian cancer. There were 50 per cent chances that it could be passed on to her daughter also. This information enabled her to take decisions, which could potentially save her life and her daughter’s too. The genomic test was carried out at Strand Life Sciences, Bengaluru.
Strand Life Sciences is a genomic profiling, clinical diagnostics and global bioinformatics company. A recent study by the company, on the genetic inheritance of breast and/or ovarian cancer (BOC), reveals that there is a high incidence of pathogenic genetic mutations in Indian patients. Breast cancer is one of the most prominent cancer in women not only in India but worldwide too. Mutations in the genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are most likely to be responsible for a proclivity towards Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) syndrome.
This study emphasises the significance of genomic testing of high-risk people for HBOC. According to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organisation, the global cancer burden has increased to 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018. India is expected to witness an almost 50 per cent increase in cancer incidences in the next 10 years. As per the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, there will be more than 17.3 lakh new cancer cases and over 8.8 lakh cancer deaths in India by 2020.
“The high mortality rate in India can be attributed to diagnosis at an advanced stage, caused possibly by lack of effective breast cancer screening programmes and by limited awareness. Increased awareness of all aspects of cancer, including genetic testing, is key,” says Dr Ramesh Hariharan,CEO, Strand Life Sciences. “Our studies on the heritability of BOC risk are among the first and the largest in India. Whether it truly reflects a great inherited risk burden in India will be proved by ongoing studies on cohorts of unselected patients.The results will be an important determiner in planning screening programmes in India that could help save lives.” Says Adira Joseph, who has availed Strand’s services: “The Strand Genetic Test identified that my cancer was hereditary because of a mutation in the BRCA1 gene. This genetic status enabled me to receive PARP inhibitor therapy. Also the test revealed that my daughter’s risk for hereditary cancer was negative, giving her peace of mind.”
At the forefront of precision medicine Strand Life Sciences offers a comprehensive list of standard of care diagnostic tests in oncology, genetics,fertility, women’s health, infectious diseases and general wellness. It has also been developing sophisticated bioinformatics software for several analytic platforms for almost two decades. Big instrument firms, core laboratories and pharma companies are part of its clientele. Strand’s comprehensive databases, built to support its clinical diagnostic services, are repositories of curated cancer variants for somatic tumour profiling, hereditary cancer and rare inherited diseases.
Founded in 2000, it was the India’s first academic entrepreneurship, an offshoot of Indian Institute of Science formed by its four professors to help clinical research by genomic testing. More than a decade later, Strand began collaboration with doctors and hospitals, such as the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology,the Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Centre,Healthcare Global Enterprises (HCG),Max Hospitals, and St John’s Medical College Hospital, to offer personalised genomic profiling in the country.Before Strand entered the genomic profiling industry, such tests were exorbitantly priced. Strand significantly brought down the cost and helped the patients receive personalised targeted cancer care with better remission rate. “If a genetic test had been done when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I could have avoided getting cancer in the other breast,” says Tamanna, 30, who was diagnosed with cancer in the right breast at the age of 25. She was diagnosed with contralateral breast cancer at 29 years. On the advice of her oncologist, she underwent genetic testing, which established that her breast cancer was hereditary.
“The High Mortality Rate In India Can Be Attributed To Diagnosis At An Advanced Stage, Caused Possibly By Lack Of Effective Breast Cancer Screening Programmes And By Limited Awareness. Increased Awareness Of All Aspects Of Cancer, Including Genetic Testing, Is Key.”Dr Ramesh Hariharan CEO, Strand Life Sciences
Stay ahead of cancer
Strand Life Sciences also has a not-forprofit unit called Strand Life Foundation,which aspires to make genomic profiling affordable and available to Indians and people across the globe in need of these diagnostic services.It hopes to attain this goal by supporting research and development for cost reduction, assuaging the financial burden of cancer patients, and contributing towards progress in the field of clinical genomics.
This January, Strand merged with HCG’s Triesta Sciences, its clinical lab unit which provides extensive molecular diagnostics tests and research services for cancer. This will provide combined specialised diagnostic services with endto-end facilities in precision medicine—proprietary analytics, clinical research, access to the HCG biorepository, genomic technologies, assay development and validation, and a group of laboratories with comprehensive lists of diagnostic tests.
“Triesta and HCG have been pioneers in bringing the latest advancements in molecular biomarkers into clinical practice in the country. Together we are well on the path to building Asia’s leading integrated analytics driven diagnostic and genomics research company. Through this alliance we will work together to be at the forefront of precision medicine,” says Dr Hariharan. In February, Strand announced an investment to the tune of Rs 80 crore by Quadria Capital, an Asian private equity firm. “With the merger with Triesta Sciences, we are able to now provide almost 3,500 tests. It would also bring a huge number of oncologists who work already within the HCG hospital,” says Amit Varma, managing partner and co-founder of Quadria Capital. “The partnership with Quadria and HCG will help launch Strand into its next phase of growth and into an era where data analytics and molecular measurements together change diagnosis and treatment paradigms,” says Dr Hariharan.