Interview with Anton Iliuk of Tymora Analytical Operations

Dr. Iliuk’s group focuses on discovery, development and validation of exosomal proteins and phosphoproteins as liquid biopsy biomarkers. He developed the procedures and technologies (including EVtrap) that enable complete recovery of exosomes for effective analysis of proteins and nucleic acids in plasma, urine and saliva. His group was the first to successfully demonstrate the utility of exosomal phosphoproteins for detection of cancer from plasma and urine. His company currently focuses on partnerships to develop novel biomarkers for cancer, AD, preeclampsia and other conditions. Read his full bio.

Interview with Anton Iliuk of Tymora Analytical Operations

Q: What need is Tymora Analytical Operations addressing?

A: Virtually all of the current liquid biopsy assays are based on genomic information. But the active molecules in the body that are doing the work and undergoing changes during disease progression are actually proteins. Protein biomarker discovery from plasma, urine and other biofluids has been an important goal over the past few decades, but something that has been difficult to achieve. Now we believe it’s possible. Tymora Analytical enables non-invasive biomarker discovery and diagnostic assay development based on active cancer proteins and phosphoproteins in plasma, urine and saliva exosomes.

Q: What are the products and/or services Tymora Analytical offers/develops to address this need? What makes Tymora Analytical unique?

A: Tymora Analytical has developed a unique technology, EVtrap, that enables isolation and detection of active cancer proteins directly from blood, urine or saliva. It empowers the shift from tissue to liquid biopsies by analyzing clinically-relevant proteins in extracellular vesicles (exosomes). Our objective is to partner with other organizations for protein biomarker discovery and validation in a variety of cancers and other diseases in different biofluids (e.g. disease monitoring or companion diagnostics). As a platform to discover, validate and routinely detect diagnostic markers, EVtrap offers enormous potential to find signaling proteins in biofluids that were previously undetectable.

Q: What is your role at Tymora Analytical and what excites you about your work?

A: I am the co-Founder, President and CTO for the company. I run the daily operations and work on the development of new projects and partnerships with regard to biomarker discovery and diagnostics development.

The most exciting aspect of my work is being able to start a new project and watch our partners and customers being thrilled by the data we can generate. Vast majority of the biomarkers we find are new and not previously detectable in plasma or urine. Seeing the possibilities that arise from these new cancer biomarkers as replacements to tissue biopsy that can significantly improve patient care and prognosis is both inspiring and gratifying.

Q: When thinking about Tymora Analytical and the domain Tymora Analytical is working in, what are some of the recent breakthroughs that are propelling the field forward and how will they impact healthcare?

A: While everyone agrees that proteins and their modification are critical in cancer progression, the field of proteomics has been lagging far behind genomics in terms of molecular diagnostics. Now, finally, we are at the threshold when proteomics is catching up. The advancements in mass spectrometry, array technologies and other multiplexing platforms are finally starting to enable robust and reproducible protein analysis in clinical samples, something DNA researchers have been enjoying for decades.

There are currently >70,000 genomic tests on the marker. Yet, only two liquid biopsy assays have been approved by the FDA for cancer detection. Despite the significant head start of genomics, I believe that analysis of proteins and their modified counterparts (e.g. phosphoproteins) will overtake the current genomic assays in the liquid biopsy field. Genome information can be prognostic but is often confounded by the layers of regulation that exist between DNA and an expressed phenotype. Protein analysis provides real-time information about the organism’s physiological functions and disease progression. Compared to gene panel testing, immunoassays are also relatively inexpensive and are much easier to interpret. The new advances in non-invasive disease diagnosis offered by us and other proteomics companies have the potential for enormous public health impact.

Q: What are the short-term challenges that Tymora Analytical and its peers are facing?

A: The biggest challenge we are facing is convincing others that what we are capable of doing is indeed true. For decades proteomics, and especially phosphoproteomics, have been essentially ignored for cancer diagnostics and monitoring purposes. Yet, the most successful class of targeted cancer drugs are kinase inhibitors. So it would make sense to monitor the phosphorylation changes in these cancers that are regulated by aberrant kinases, whether for patient stratification, post-treatment monitoring or companion diagnostics purposes. This has been done to some extent in tissue biopsies, but now we can generate the equivalent data from plasma, urine and saliva exosomes. Now we just have to convince others that the data are reliable and truly represent the complete tumor profile.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the PMWC audience?

A: The revolution of exosome proteomics and phosphoproteomics for non-invasive cancer detection is coming. It is the newest and most exciting segment in liquid biopsy. We are thrilled to be at the forefront of it.