Saving man’s best friend: Volition blood test allows cheap and easy cancer screenings for dogs

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A Belgian invention is revolutionizing cancer diagnostics for dogs by making it possible to screen for two common canine cancers with a simple, low-cost blood test. The innovation was developed by the Belgian subsidiary of Volition, a multinational company listed on the New York stock exchange. The company is also developing human blood tests for use in oncology as well as a number of other diseases including COVID-19.

This article was authored by Andy Furniere.

Volition’s ‘Nu.Q™ Vet Cancer Screening Test’ was launched in the US at the end of last year, the first commercial product from the 10-year-old company. The company hadn’t initially intended to develop veterinary products, originally only focusing on cancer diagnostics for people. The blood test for dogs was the happy result of a collaboration with the renowned veterinary department of the Texas A&M University explains Gaetan Michel, COO of Volition:

“We visited the Texan university a few years ago, during a mission organized by Wallonia’s export agency Awex. The veterinary experts there asked us whether our cancer screening solution, the Nu.Q™ platform, would also work for dogs. We ran the necessary tests, which delivered remarkable results and eventually led to a close cooperation with the university. They are now the first to distribute our tests to veterinary clinics.”

The technology behind Volition’s product, the Nu.Q™ diagnostic platform, works by analyzing nucleosomes found in blood samples. Nucleosomes, which are basically sections of DNA wrapped around cores of proteins, undergo epigenetic changes as a result of diseases such as cancer. The Nu.Q™ technology can identify and measure these changes in nucleosomes, thereby determining whether a person or animal is suffering from a specific illness.

Catching cancer in canines

Until now, dogs suspected of having cancer had to undergo a variety of diagnostic tests that may be expensive, time-consuming and painful for the animals. In a study with over 330 dogs, Volition’s Nu.Q™ Vet Cancer Screening Test was able to identify 74% of lymphomas and 89% of hemangiosarcomas, common cancers responsible for about one third of canine cancers.

“Our solution is low-cost, quick and non-invasive,” says Michel. “All we need is a drop of blood, and we have a result ready in just a few hours. It’s a great solution for use in the annual wellness check of older dogs, or for cases where there is a suspicion of cancer. It can also be used as a routine test for younger dogs of breeds with a higher risk for developing cancer in their lifetimes, such as Golden Retrievers.”

There are around 80 million dogs in the US. Every year, around 6 million of them are diagnosed with cancer. – Gaetan Michel, Volition

In the US, cancer is the most common cause of death in dogs over the age of 2, and half of all dogs over the age of 10 will have developed cancer at some point in their lifetime. An early diagnosis makes it possible to start treatments sooner, sometimes even before symptoms appear, meaning the Nu.Q™ test can increase the chance of survival and quality of life for millions of dogs. Michel highlights the huge number of dogs, and owners, who might benefit from the test: “There are around 80 million dogs in the US. Every year, around 6 million of them are diagnosed with cancer.”

Volition is working towards making the test available for dogs in Belgium and other European countries, in addition to the US. “We receive a lot of requests,” says Michel. “The goal is to gradually go global with this invention.” The company is also exploring the potential of this screening technology for use in other animals, such as cats.

Helping both pets and their humans

Although the company’s first product ended up being a veterinary test, Volition did start out with a focus on human health. Using the same innovative technology, the company is working hard to develop similar cancer screens for humans, with tests for blood, colorectal and lung cancer in the pipeline. The blood cancer test, in particular, is almost ready to be introduced to the market, with an FDA study for commercialization in the US already initialized.

The next step will be to develop a point-of-care test or rapid bedside test, which takes about as much time as a pregnancy test. – Gaetan Michel, Volition

Cancer isn’t the only possible target for the technology either: the Nu.Q™ platform also holds a lot of potential for diagnosing other conditions, including inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and sepsis. Volition is also contributing to the global battle against COVID-19 by developing a disease monitoring test. “With our COVID-19 test, we will be able to determine whether the disease is putting a patient’s life in danger and to monitor the progression of the condition.”

Plans for the future in ‘Silver one’

Speed is a key feature of all of Volition’s Nu.Q™ tests. Currently, diagnosis takes a few hours, but the company is in the process of reducing that time to about 45 minutes says Michel: “The next step will be to develop a point-of-care test or rapid bedside test, which takes about as much time as a pregnancy test, no more than 15 minutes.”

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Although the company’s earliest roots are in the United Kingdom, scientists of the Belgian University of Namur have played a central role in Volition’s success from the very start. The R&D and product development activities have always been carried out at the Belgian subsidiary, situated at the Crealys Science Park in Isnes, Namur province.

Recently, this subsidiary further expanded its activities by establishing a 10,000 square foot manufacturing facility at the Crealys Science Park called ‘Silver One’. In the future, all the key raw materials for the Nu.Q™ products will be produced there at a large scale. Its foundation was spurred on by the COVID-19 crisis, Michel explained: “Suddenly our suppliers abroad had big difficulties in delivering the materials we need, which put us in trouble. We decided it was crucial to take our whole manufacturing process into our own hands.”

With local activities expanding, and a long list of potential tests for humans and pets in the pipeline, we’re sure to see more of Volition in the near future.

Header image by Jamie Street.