Telome Health said this week that it plans to launch its qPCR-based TeloTest diagnostic assay for measuring average telomere length in the first quarter of 2013.
TeloTest is a saliva-based assay that is designed to use data related to telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, to help assess health status, disease and mortality risk, and response to specific therapies.
Telome Health, based in Menlo Park, Calif., was founded in 2010 by a group including Elizabeth Blackburn, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and winner of the 2009 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work on telomere structure and function and discovery of telomerase; and Calvin Harley, a former Geron scientist credited with linking telomeres and telomerase to human cell aging and disease.
The company emerged from stealth mode in 2011, noting that it had recently secured a worldwide exclusive license to intellectual property developed by Richard Cawthon at the University of Utah, including a key patent describing the use of qPCR to measure telomere length (PCR Insider, 3/24/2011).
Telome Health is now ready to move forward with its assay after recently completing an independent, large clinical study sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, the University of California, San Francisco, and the National Institutes of Health.
In this study, researchers used qPCR to measure the average telomere length of 100,000 Kaiser patients and analyzed these measurements relative to other health domains and clinical outcomes. The subjects' medical records were analyzed to confirm health status over a two-year period prior to telomere testing.
The study, which was presented at the recent American Society of Human Genetics conference but has not yet been published, showed that individuals who had short telomeres had increased risk of death in the three-year follow-up period; that smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, lower education, and poor environments were associated with short telomeres; and that moderate exercise was associated with longer telomeres. Mortality risk remained statistically significant even after accounting for lifestyle factors.
Telome Health said that these findings were consistent with earlier studies on blood cell telomere length.
"Because saliva samples can be conveniently collected in a doctor's office or at home with a non-invasive kit, the saliva-based test provides an important strategic differentiator from other telomere tests that are currently available, and is a better test overall due to our qPCR assay technology, which is scalable, cost-effective, and we believe will be the dominant technology for high-throughput assays," Telome Health CEO Lennart Olsson said in a statement. "We are actively gearing up for a controlled launch early in 2013 from our clinical laboratory."
The company said that it would eventually introduce related telomere tests, including an assay for measuring the percentage of short telomeres, but did not provide a timeline for such tests.