(L to R) Mark Taylor, Director, Commercialization at UHN, presents the 2021 Inventor of the Year Award to Drs. Daniel De Carvalho and Scott Bratman. Dr. Daniel De Carvalho is a world-leading scholar in cancer epigenetics. Dr. Bratman is a radiation oncologist and internationally recognized expert in cell-free DNA. (Photo: UHN Research, StRIDe Team)

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.

They received the award for their work on 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 artificial intelligence (AI), CfMeDIP-seq is now transforming the landscape of cancer diagnosis and disease management.

These advances in cfMeDIP-seq technology would also 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 a platform capable identifying multiple types of cancers and other conditions through a single blood test. ​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 it 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 10 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."

"We are thrilled to recognize the world-class science, collaboration and commercialization of this ground-breaking liquid biopsy technology," says Dr. Brad Wouters, Executive Vice President, Science and Research at UHN. "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."

About the technology

The DNA methylome is a rich source of information about human disease. Adela's genome-wide methylation enrichment technology uniquely captures information efficiently from the entire methylome and distinguishes the most-highly informative (i.e., "methylated") regions of the genome from non-informative regions and preferentially targets them for sequencing. In addition, the CfMeDIP-seq technology platform boasts significant efficiency in that it does not require bisulfite conversion, which is a chemical treatment that is cost intensive and causes loss of valuable genomic material and information.

About the UHN Inventor of the Year Award

Proudly sponsored by Commercialization at UHN, the UHN Inventor of the Year Award recognizes an inventor or team who has made a substantial and noteworthy contribution to developing healthcare innovations with high commercialization potential.

Every day, new discoveries are made across the UHN campus that will impact the lives of Canadians, and the global community. UHN is committed to supporting promising new technologies for commercialization by moving these discoveries through the development pipeline and the annual UHN Inventor of the Year Award recognizes leading excellence in this area.

For more information, please visit: Commercialization at UHN

Past UHN Inventor of the Year Winners include:

  • Dr. Naoto Hirano (2020) for his work in developing the TCR-HLA multimer staining technique, which greatly expands how immunotherapy targets cancer
  • Drs. Shaf Keshavjee and Marcelo Cypel (2019) for their pioneering work in developing the Toronto Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion (EVLP) system
  • Drs. Gordon Keller and Michael Laflamme (2018) for their research and study of stem cells and inventiveness in the field of regenerative medicine
  • Dr. Christopher Paige (2017) for his work in immune-oncology and in developing a therapeutic approach that uses a patient's own immune system to fight cancer
  • Drs. Hisham Alshaer, T. Douglas Bradley and Geoff Fernie (2016) for developing BresoDx®, a device that can be used to diagnose sleep apnea at home
  • Dr. Milos Popovic (2015) for his ground-breaking neurorehabilitation research, which led to the creation of a new product called MyndMove™
  • Dr. Tak Mak and The Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research Therapeutics Group (2013) for the team's creation and development of a first-in-class cancer therapeutic (CFI-400945), and the further achievement of a successful IND and associated launch of a clinical trial
  • Dr. Ralph DaCosta (2014) for his development of a hand-held fluorescence imaging device for real-time wound care monitoring and assessment, and its ongoing successful commercialization through the creation of the company MolecuLight Inc.
  • Dr. Thomas Purdie (2013) for his role in developing software that has significantly improved the way cancer radiation therapy is delivered
  • Dr. Aaron Schimmer (2012) for pioneering work in the area of re-positioning anti-infective drugs for the treatment of leukemia
  • Dr. Gang Zheng (2011) for his work in the development of novel nanoparticle formulations, which have enabled new therapeutic approaches to the treatment of cancer
  • Drs. Mohammad Islam and Michael Sharpe (2010) for their inventions, which make radiation therapy safer, more effective and more efficient
  • Drs. Ming-Sound Tsao, Frances A. Shepherd, and Igor Jurisica (2009) for developing groundbreaking prognostic genomic analysis for early stage non-small-cell lung cancer
  • Dr. David Jaffray (2008) for his creativity in applying cutting-edge physics and engineering to the integration of imaging and radiation therapy in the cancer clinic
  • Dr. Andres Lozano (2007) for his ingenuity in using deep brain stimulation—a technology that selectively modifies neurotransmission activity-- to treat depression, anxiety, cognitive disorders and Parkinson's disease
  • Dr. Joe Fisher (2006) for his invention of many exciting medical technologies including a non-invasive system to measure heart health, a portable device that allows the rapid treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning and an oxygen delivery mask that can help prevent spread of respiratory diseases such as SARS or Avian Influenza in hospitals
  • Dr. Dan Drucker (2005) for inventions targeted towards treating patients with diabetes, short bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease. A number of these products have already reached Phase II or III clinical trials, or are awaiting FDA approval
  • Dr. Kevin Kain (2004) for his discovery of new medications for the treatment of malaria, including a treatment for the most severe and frequently fatal form of the disease

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