Telomerase is a well-recognised biomarker used by 85% of epithelial cancers to enable immortal cell replication. This occurs through the enzymatic role telomerase plays in the repair of chromosome ends known as telomeres. Ordinarily, cell telomeres shorten with each successive cell division until the cell dies, a process called senescence. Telomerase counteracts this telomere shortening process by adding new telomeric repeat sequences, effectively repairing the end of the telomere.

The discovery of telomerase and its role in cellular immortality resulted in a Nobel Prize for Elizabeth Blackburn PhD and her colleagues. Link to press release

Translating telomerase into a biomarker of clinical activity is complex. The telomerase enzyme comprises:

  • An RNA component (hTR), which acts as a template for DNA replication,
  • The telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), which is responsible for catalytic activity
  • Accessory proteins, including dyskerin.

Of the various telomerase components, the Company has found assaying for hTERT is the most practical and efficient way of detecting the complex telomerase enzyme in a clinical setting.

According to Dr Kai Wang and colleagues, hTERT stimulates invasive cancer cell growth, which arises from the concerted activation of cell proliferation, angiogenesis, migration, and metastasis.” hTERT contributes to cancer development and progression via multiple activities beyond its canonical telomere-lengthening function.

For example, hTERT interacts with β-catenin to promote the epithelial–mesenchymal transition and stem cell-like traits in cancer cells. High expression of hTERT is associated with TNM stage, lymphatic metastasis, and poor prognosis.

hTERT overexpression is an unfavourable prognostic factor for up to 90% of human primary cancers.

INOVIQ’s first application for its proprietary anti-hTERT antibody is as an adjunct to urine cytology testing, the standard non-invasive test performed on urine samples being examined for the presence of cancerous cells (bladder cancer). Read more here.