UHN Inventor of the Year

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Drs. De Carvalho and Bratman named joint awardees for advancing cancer diagnostics.
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Drs. Daniel De Carvalho (left) and Scott Bratman (right), joint-recipients of the 2021 UHN Inventor of the Year Award.

Commercialization at UHN is thrilled to recognize Princess Margaret Senior Scientists Drs. Daniel De Carvalho and Scott Bratman as the joint winners of UHN’s 18th annual Inventor of the Year Award.

The researchers received the award for advancing a specialized form of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) technology, known as cfMeDIP-seq. cfMeDIP-seq is an ultra-sensitive cell-free DNA methylation pattern detection technology being developed to spot different types of cancers via liquid biopsy. Powered by AI, CfMeDIP-seq is now transforming the landscape of cancer diagnosis and disease management.

These advances in cfMeDIP-seq technology would not have been possible without important contributions from TeamUHN, including Dr. Michael Hoffman and the other members of the De Carvalho, Bratman, and Hoffman laboratories. The foundational discoveries were also enabled through close collaboration with numerous other investigators at UHN, including Drs. Philippe Bedard, John de Almeida, Neil Fleshner, Steven Gallinger, David Goldstein, Natasha Leighl, Fei-Fei Liu, Geoffrey Liu, Mark Minden, Catherine O’Brien, Trevor Pugh, Lillian Siu, Anna Spreafico, John Waldron, Ilan Weinreb, Wei Xu, and Gelareh Zadeh.

With extensive support from Commercialization at UHN, Drs. De Carvalho and Bratman have recently co-founded the precision medicine UHN start-up Adela to realize the full potential of cfMeDIP-seq so that it can be used to improve the lives of patients. Supported by a US$60 million financing round in the spring of 2021, Adela is now developing its biotech platform so that it can identify multiple types of cancers and other conditions with a simple blood test, skipping the need for inconvenient surgical biopsy. In addition to its U.S.-based offices, Adela established operations at the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower in close proximity to UHN resources and facilities, which will enable ongoing cross-collaboration to nurture further growth in the local biotech economy.

Drs. De Carvalho and Bratman were quick to recognize the commercial potential of the cfMeDIP-seq platform as a disruptive technology in the precision medicine area and set out to develop it for clinical application. They have worked with the team at Commercialization at UHN to advance the platform towards patient care, and both now serve in leadership roles at Adela.

Building on multiple high-impact publications in Nature, Nature Medicine and most recently, Clinical Cancer Research, Adela’s Series A financing round is one of the biggest in Canadian biotech history. 

“The immense potential of our core technology has already been demonstrated across ten different cancer types,” says Dr. De Carvalho. “We took advantage of the fact that there are a large number of characteristic DNA methylation markers in the blood of cancer patients. Using this knowledge, combined with machine learning, we developed a robust and cost-efficient approach to profile or ‘read’ DNA methylation in this circulating DNA.”

“Adela’s technology has the potential to revolutionize how we detect and diagnose disease,” says Dr. Bratman. “With Adela, we expect that from a blood draw, doctors will be able to diagnose cancer and identify patients who are at a higher risk of relapse and might benefit from more aggressive treatment.

“We can also monitor treatment response—all with just a blood test and no need for surgical extraction of cancer tissue for biopsy,” he says. “These applications demonstrate the power of the methylation-based platform used in Adela across a wide range of clinical settings,” he says.

We are thrilled to recognize the world-class science, collaboration and commercialization of this ground-breaking liquid biopsy technology. It is exciting to see another UHN and Toronto ecosystem technology making bold strides towards improving health by including a broader spectrum of patients in need.

Congratulations Drs. De Carvalho and Bratman!

Drs. De Carvalho and Bratman were presented their awards by Mark Taylor (left), the Director of Commercialization at UHN, at the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower.