There’s an old saying — ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. But these days, it’s biotechs — not apples — that are working hard to keep patients out of a congested medical system.

Rhythm Biosciences (ASX: RHY) main asset is Colostat – a blood test for the detection of bowel cancer.

Rhythm Biosciences says Colostat will make life easier for doctors, because 1) they won’t need to send patients for unnecessary colonoscopies and 2) they will be able detect bowel cancer earlier when it is easier to treat.


Better than the status quo

Rhythm is seeking to replace the complicated stool test that is run by the government to detect bowel cancer. This test is invasive and complicated, which means the participation rate is low.

Furthermore the current test only looks at blood in the stool – one symptom of cancer. The company hopes, through looking at 10 cancer biomarkers, it can tell whether or not a patient has cancer.

“We’ve designed Colostat to be suitable for all stage of cancers,”, CEO Glen Gilbert told a broker lunch. “It’s not reliant on it [the cancer] being a certain size, we look at biomarkers that detect proteins which go up and down if cancer is present”.

If you have cancer, later stage treatment often goes into the tens of thousands of dollars, but there’s also a far lower success rate than if it is detected earlier.

But Rhythm’s proposed test would be  a lower cost test that could  be done as part of a regular GP check up.


Awaiting disruption

Gilbert said bowel cancer was one of the last cancers not using a blood-based test. But it was also the most deadly, with 850,000 people dying every year.

He said this was a” huge emotional and financial burden for patients but also for the healthcare system”.

”[It’s] only a matter of time before it shifts [to a blood based test] and there’s not a lot of competition in our space,” he said.

The company is planning a 1000 patient clinical trial across 2 hospitals. All the patients will have the usual foetal test, the colostat blood test and the colonoscopy. Two different cohorts will be trialled, one with patients who have been diagnosed and those which have not.

Recruitment is still underway and it hopes to have the full results within the 2021 financial year.


Make or break?

Stockhead put to him the proposition that the upcoming trial could be ‘make or break’ moment for Rhythm Biosciences.

While companies such as Opthea (ASX: OPT) have gained, others like Factor Therapeutics (ASX: FTT) have collapsed.

Gilbert was not worried. He noted the test would cost $50; currently it cost the government $150 per test.

One of his concluding comments to the lunch was that Rhythm was meeting a,” Massive unmet need to make a difference in saving lives”.

Rhythm are not the only company in the world to be trialling a blood-test detector for cancers but competitors were even higher than the status quo – some up to $500 per test. As Gilbert said, governments would not pay that.

“The whole point is getting people to screen and detect cancer early, that’s where it matters”.

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