Boston Company To Introduce New Breast Cancer Diagnosis Tool

Reps for MetaStat say that the technology will be able to predict if breast cancer will spread.


Video still of the MetaStat test. Photo provided to

For women with breast cancer, the difference between metastatic cancer—cancer that spreads through the blood—and non-metastatic cancer is a big one: It’s the difference between ending treatment after the tumor is removed or going through what could be six months of chemotherapy.

That’s where MetaStat, a Boston-based cancer diagnostics company, comes in. The company has developed a test called the “MetaSite” diagnostic tool and it’s expected to hit the market in 2015. The tool, according to company reps, will give doctors the ability to differentiate between metastatic and non-metastatic breast cancers, and eventually other types of cancer as well.

“One of the first products we’re going to bring to market is a breast cancer diagnostic, but we really do have a platform technology that’s broadly applicable to breast, prostate, lung, colon, rectal, liver, and gastric cancers, as well as some other smaller cancers,” says CEO Oscar Bronsther.

The science behind the tool, Bronsther explains, is based on a protein called Mena, which is key in developing a baby’s nervous system, but is typically turned off after birth. Bronsther says it is found in nearly 80 percent of solid tumors. “Postpartum expression of Mena is depressed, and there’s only a small amount of Mena that persists in healthy human beings,” he says. “It turns out that the gene that codes for Mena is turned back on in all of these epithelial tumors, and in fact there’s a lot of Mena in all of these cancers.”

Bronsther says that there are two types of Mena, one anti- and one pro-metastatic, and MetaStat’s technology works by measuring the levels of the two to predict how much, if at all, a cancer will spread. Using the test, a woman with a breast cancer diagnosis would be able to determine whether she should continue on with chemotherapy based on the likelihood that her cancer will multiply—a decision that’s currently extremely hard to make. “All of these breast cancers are not biologically capable of metastasizing, so because we lack really good cancer diagnostics right now, we over-treat women with chemotherapy,” he says, adding that this leads to unnecessary pain for women and unnecessary costs for hospitals.

The company will also be looking into how Mena can help cancer therapy, but Bronsther says that technology is still in development. For now, he says, MetaSite will be a more informative diagnostic tool than its contemporaries, and also less expensive because the tool relies on the underlying biology of cancer instead of developing complicated algorithms and processes.

“We’re going to be less than half the cost of other products that are competing in this space, [while] providing more prognostic information to a larger number of women with breast cancer,” he says.