CU technology providing hope for patients with liver disease

HepQuant one of 141 startups formed at CU during past two decades
By Staff

About 15 million to 30 million people in the United States, and at least 500 million worldwide, suffer from chronic liver disease. At this point, methods of monitoring liver disease and treatment effectiveness can only be done in the later stages or can involve risky and invasive procedures prone to sampling error. These tests provide little comfort and reassurance to patients with early stage liver disease.

However, a promising new test developed at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and HepQuant LLC, one of 141 startup companies formed on the basis of CU technology since 1994, seeks to change that. HepQuant-SHUNT is a noninvasive, cost-effective test that measures the liver’s portal circulation using natural compounds labeled with stable isotopes. The test may enable a physician to detect liver disease, measure the severity of the disease, and predict risk for future complications.

Now in the testing phase, the potential benefits of HepQuant are encouraging, said Gregory Everson, inventor of the test and professor and director of hepatology at the CU School of Medicine.

“Advantages of HepQuant are that it is noninvasive, quantifies function over the full range of disease – even at early stages – and can be used to monitor treatment effects or natural progression in a variety of liver diseases,” Everson said. Although treatment options connected with the information the HepQuant tests provide are not yet proven, researchers are optimistic.

“We think HQ tests are ideal for the new treatments for fibrosis of the liver and also fatty liver,” Everson said. “As the test is exposed to more investigators, we are seeing an interest to use the test for a whole host of liver-related research applications.”

Everson’s potentially life-saving research is one of 141 startup companies formed at CU the past 20 years. Of those, 80 percent still are operating; among those, 96 companies have operations in Colorado.

And while HepQuant aims to fulfill an important medical need, CU ingenuity runs the gamut, with groundbreaking advances ranging from OPXBIO – a CU-Boulder startup making sustainable, low-cost, high-return, renewable bio-based chemicals and fuels – to LineRate Systems, a computer networking approach that makes networks easier to configure, manage, troubleshoot and debug.

CU startups include companies that were founded based on CU technology – those numbers don’t include, for instance, the many student-driven startups that emerge from business plan competitions, the CU New Venture Challenge and others.

In 2013-14, CU startups raised more than $70 million in follow-on funding, including federal and state grants, venture financing and other funding. Total follow-on funding raised by these companies in that time amounts to more than $6.2 billion, the CU Technology Transfer Office reports.

CU startup companies have included:

  • 89 biotech
  • 19 software
  • 18 physical sciences and engineering
  • 16 energy/clean energy

Everson stressed that the HepQuant test is not FDA approved and is not currently used for any clinical decision making. “We are working with regulatory consultants to define the regulatory path,” Everson said. “We plan to conduct discussions with the FDA within the next six months.”

Trials have included prototype testing at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and institutions such as the University of California Irvine and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. HepQuant research testing is underway at CU Anschutz and Baylor University in Dallas, with several other institutions starting the process of getting on board.

In the meantime, the HepQuant test has received two patents with others pending in the U.S., Europe and Australia. “We just paid the issuance fee on a third one in the U.S.,” Everson said. “Hopefully others will fall in line this year and next year.”

That’s good news for people facing liver disease and for the people who care about them. And it is only one story among hundreds showcasing CU technology and its positive impact on the health, wellness and quality of life across the state, nation and world.

About the HepQuant test:

The noninvasive test takes about two hours, inventor Gregory Everson said. Patients are given an IV and drink an oral solution. They receive an IV injection through a catheter. Six tubes of blood are removed over 90 minutes, he said. Anyone interesting in taking part in the trials may contact Jennifer DeSanto, R.N., coordinator for trials, at 303-724-1861.

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