Star spin-off Mirxes looks into testing for other cancers after being successful with gastric cancer kits


SINGAPORE – Long before Covid-19 hit, local biotech company Mirxes had, for seven years, developed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to detect cancer.

This allowed Mirxes to quickly pivot to manufacture Covid-19 test kits when the need arose.

The first locally manufactured Covid-19 test kit was developed in just three weeks.

The Fortitude Kit, developed in collaboration with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A * Star), arrived at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in March of last year.

Mirxes was founded in 2014, as a spin-off of A * Star.

Dr Zhou Lihan, co-founder and CEO of Mirxes, said the ability to assemble the test kit so quickly was the result of decades of research – even when the term “PCR” was still unknown.

PCR tests look for certain changes in its gene or genetic material in bacteria or viruses, such as Covid-19.

Before commercializing their technology, the team began research in 2002, when they investigated the role of microRNAs in human cells – a type of genetic material essential for the regulation of gene expression.

“95% of the human genome is made up of microRNA, while 5% is made up of messenger RNA which teaches cells to make proteins. The two work in tandem to ensure that the body is in homeostasis or in a stable state. Changes in mRNA or microRNA could cause problems, ”Dr. Zhou said.

For example, most cancers, such as gastric cancer, produce abnormal levels of microRNAs which are secreted into the bloodstream even in its early stages.

“From there, we developed a PCR test, using microRNA as a biomarker to test for early stage gastric cancer,” he added.

The test kit – known as GastroClear – is used as a blood test and was approved for use here by the Health Sciences Authority in 2019.


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