Animal Cancer Dx Embraces New Directions with Name Change
Raleigh-based chemical and biomolecular diagnostic company Animal Cancer Dx is changing its name to Oncotect.
The company offers a non-invasive, cost-effective, and highly accurate test that dog owners can use to screen their pets for cancer.
CEO Chan Namgong says the new name encompasses the exciting future ahead. “Our goal is to extend our services to cats and horses in the next few years,” Namgong said. “And, although we are focused on the veterinary space right now, we do believe that there is the potential for our technology to be applied in humans.”
Namgong founded Oncotect in 2019 after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Thankfully she is now cancer free, but during that time I came across a scientific paper in which a group of scientists used urine samples to detect cancer in humans,” he said. “I realized that, at the time, there was nothing available that could screen for cancer in dogs or cats or other companion animals. I saw a huge potential for bringing that discovery into the veterinary space.”
NC roots that run deep
Namgong, who was born in Korea, has lived in the Raleigh area since he was 15. His company draws heavily on the area’s talent. Danny Midkiff, the company’s chief scientist, helped develop the test after graduating from North Carolina State University. Oncotect also leases its laboratory space in NC State’s Centennial Campus.
“I like the energy of being here and the close proximity to the College of Veterinary Medicine,” said Namgong. “We've been working with many NC State students and graduates and have recruited quite a few technicians and other staff from the area.”
Oncotect was recently accepted into a prestigious accelerator program called Leap Venture Studio, a pet care specific program sponsored by Mars Pet Care, Michelson Found Animal Foundation and RGA Ventures. Each year, the six to eight companies accepted into the program work with the Leap partners for 12 weeks and then participate in an online pitch event where Studio companies pitch to investors, industry leaders and the startup community.
“It also includes a $200,000 investment in our company,” said Namgong. “Many people don’t realize this, but Mars is the largest pet care company in the world. We are excited about partnering with them and all the other networking connections it will bring.”
Sniffing out cancer using worms
Oncotect’s canine cancer screening method, called the Oncotect test, detects cancer using roundworms, which are known as C. elegans by the scientific community. Because this widely studied model organism has a highly effective sense of smell, it can be used to detect cancer based on odor molecules released by cancerous cells. The Oncotect test quantifies the worm’s preferential behavior towards urine from a dog that might have cancer. This is used to determine a cancer risk designation of low, moderate or high.
“Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs, and almost everyone we’ve spoken to who has experienced this say they wish they had known sooner,” said Namgong. “Whether they choose to pursue treatment or to spend quality time with their dog, I feel our screening test is making a difference in the lives of these companion animals and the people who depend on them, emotionally and physically.”
Although a few other canine cancer screening tests have been developed since 2019, they require expensive, invasive blood draws. Oncotect’s test has a retail cost of only $199, and because it uses urine as opposed to blood, it can be offered directly to consumers. The company is planning to have the test available to purchase online by the end of the year.
Oncotect is also working to improve its testing technology with a $100,000 loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. With this support, it is developing and validating a microfluidics-based screening test that will use imaging methods to automatically read out the neural response of the C. elegans. This will eliminate the tedious tasks of counting worms to quantify preferential behaviors, making canine cancer screening even faster, less expensive, and more scalable commercially.
“We are very thankful for the loan from NCBiotech, and we hope to have a prototype developed by June,” said Namgong. “We also appreciate the connections the Center has helped us make. For example, Matthew Breen at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine has been an amazing supporter and advocate and advisor for us.”