The University of Minnesota is seeking patent protection for a test it claims can determine the effectiveness of leukemia treatments for individual patients far earlier than is now possible – something its backers believe could have a far-ranging effect on the chemotherapy market. 
A patent application for “Kinase Activity Detection Methods” was published early this year by the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office, 18 months after it was first filed jointly by the U of M and Purdue University.
Its lead inventor is Laurie Parker, an assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics at the U’s College of Biological Sciences. There she heads the Parker Lab, which is devoted to her specialty: developing biosensors for “intracellular phosphorylation signaling.”
In essence, Parker’s team is creating an assay system using engineered peptides as probes capable of precisely monitoring the activities of cancer-related signaling enzymes known as tyrosine kinases. Tyrosine kinases with genetic mutations have been identified as one of the key drivers in the spread of cancerous tumors, and the ability more closely track them is the key to the potential medical value of the new biosensor technology.
Kinase inhibitor drugs have changed the face of chemotherapy, and are projected to remain a major focus of leukemia treatment. In fact, they make up around 19 percent of the global oncology market—a slice valued at more than $17 billion in 2017. 
However, the long-term efficacy of kinase inhibitors is variable from patient to patient due to individual differences. Some patients, for instance, become resistant to the drugs. It now takes many weeks to determine how the chemotherapy is working, forcing doctors to take a wait-and-see approach in the meantime. This costs both time and money—three months of unsuccessful chemotherapy drug treatment costs approximately $20,000 per patient. 
That situation could change with the new technology, however.
According to National Institute of Health grants awarded to Parker for the work, her system uses an artificial, optimized “decoy” peptide designed to report the activity of specific kinases in living cells. It is said to be capable of detecting changes in their activity within just one week of the start of kinase inhibitor therapy, thus allowing doctors to determine the efficacy of the treatment from the very beginning.
This, the researchers claim, would give both doctors and patients the valuable power to determine an individual's response and likelihood of success immediately, rather than relying on the current watch-and-wait approach.
“We are working on tests to determine if cancer drugs are working or not,” Parker said in a 2015 blog post by the College of Biological Sciences. “Right now, tests aren’t taken until the three-month mark of treatment. If we can develop a viable test for measuring kinase activity, it could be administered within the first month of treatment. That could save money and time, while improving outcomes for patients.”
The potential of this biosensor technology could ultimately be expanded beyond leukemia to other types of cancers that feature solid tumors.
“Ultimately,” the NIH grant summary claims, “this work could transform cancer treatment by enabling physicians and patients to make informed decisions about inhibitor treatment choice, monitor efficacy in real time, and catch treatment failure in time to intervene before resistance and relapse become a problem.”
The NIH has awarded the U of M a total of $996,000 over the last three years to fund Parker’s research.

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