IQuity Developing RNA-Based Disease Activity Test for Multiple Sclerosis Interview with:

Dr. Chase Spurlock, Ph.D. Executive Officer at IQuity, Inc Nashville, Tennessee

Dr. Chase Spurlock

Dr. Chase Spurlock, Ph.D.
Executive Officer at IQuity, Inc
Nashville, Tennessee

IQuity is working to further develop RNA technologies that can be used to diagnose and treat Multiple Sclerosis. IQuity hopes to develop a ‘disease activity test’, which would help physicians determine when a patient is likely to relapse so that treatments can be timed for best effect. What is the background for IQuity? What are its goals and mission?

Response: IQuity, Inc. is a biotechnology company that focuses on the research and development of innovative specialty diagnostic technology, specifically for autoimmune diseases. Our research has shown that autoimmune patients have distinct RNA expression patterns in their blood, and we have figured out how to leverage machine learning methods to analyze these RNA expression patterns and test for the presence of diseases like multiple sclerosis, IBS/IBD (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) and fibromyalgia. We collected patient samples from around the globe to match their RNA profiles against healthy and sick patient profiles we identified through our previous research. These tests led to the development of IQIsolate, our technology that informs the suite of tests which, when used even at the earliest onset of symptoms, can give providers information to rule in or rule out a suspected autoimmune disease with more than 90% accuracy.

Our mission is to relentlessly pursue innovation in specialized diagnostic and analytic technology, identifying complicated autoimmune and autoimmune-related diseases at the earliest signs of symptoms. We strive to enable providers to diagnose early and treat sooner in the disease progression to improve long-term outcomes, lower the overall cost of lifelong autoimmune diseases and minimize the uncertainty and fear patients experience during prolonged diagnosis periods. Can you tell us a little about RNA and how it interacts with DNA and the human genome?

Response: Simply put, DNA makes RNA and RNA makes protein. RNA carries out the instructions found in our DNA. RNA is a highly dynamic molecule. The majority of our genome is transcribed into RNA, meaning there is a great deal of molecular conversation going on within the cells of the human body.

Traditionally researchers were taught to focus solely on the regions of our genetic code that made protein; the rest was considered “junk DNA.” There are regions of the genome that give rise to RNAs but these RNAs do not produce protein. A particular class of RNA, long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), are powerful regulators of RNA activity and play important roles in the biology of human health and disease. These RNAs have an influence on proteins in spite of their inability to make the protein. Certain classes of RNAs can turn genes on and off, regulating what we call gene expression. The turning on or off of these expression patterns can serve as an indicator of the presence or absence of disease.

Changes in DNA have been studied and documented for decades. The presence of changes in DNA, however, does not necessarily result in the development of disease. A DNA test, for example, might indicate that a patient is at high risk for an autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or MS, but they may never develop the condition. Thus, methods that rely on measurements of DNA are limited in their ability to reliably forecast active disease. RNA testing reveals more information about the disease processes that are at work in the cells and tissues of the body. How can RNA technologies be harnessed to diagnose and treat Multiple Sclerosis?

Response: RNA-based testing is relatively new. The science behind these techniques makes them a reliable method for helping physicians make fast, accurate decisions. Analysis of RNA expression paints a molecular portrait of what’s going on in an individual’s cells at a given point in time, which can provide a picture of the presence of a disease. For diseases like multiple sclerosis, RNA signatures are detectable at the earliest stages of the disease before extensive tissue damage is observed using more traditional diagnostic methods. Through machine learning, we were able to create computer algorithms that are capable of analyzing the RNA markers in a patient’s blood sample, enabling providers to more accurately and quickly determine whether a patient does or does not have the disease. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result your current work?

Response: Our research continues and over the last year we received funding from the National Institutes of Health to further develop RNA technologies that can be used to diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases, in particular multiple sclerosis and rheumatology. One day we hope this technology can be used to develop a disease activity test, which would help physicians determine when a patient is likely to relapse so that treatments can be timed for best effect. This could reduce the severity of the relapse, or even prevent it altogether. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: A positive outcome of advancing tests that lead to early and accurate diagnoses is alleviating the problem of misdiagnosis. The misdiagnosis rates for autoimmune disease patients can be high and cost patients tens of thousands of dollars to pay for treatments they don’t need. These treatments are not without side effects, and if properly diagnosed these side effects could be avoided altogether.

In addition to helping patients avoid overwhelming medical costs, many patients endure years of stressful tests and waiting. The typical multiple sclerosis diagnosis process can take as long as 3 to 5 years and encompasses rounds of tests ranging from analysis of spinal fluid to imaging studies including MRIs. The best way for patients to live happier, healthier lives is to diagnose and treat their diseases early. There is evidence that shows relapses are often less severe and less frequent when the disease is diagnosed and treated early.

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on April 5, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD