Jun Zhou is determined to make an impact on early cancer detection in China. The CEO of Berry Oncology, a subsidiary of Berry Genomics, is overseeing China’s first and only large-scale, forward-looking cohort study of early liver cancer screening based on next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology. It is also one of the largest and fastest-growing prospective cohort studies of liver cancer in the world. Launched in 2018, the PreCar project (Prospective suRveillance for very Early hepatocelluar CARcinoma) involves approximately 10,000 people (5,000 liver cirrhosis patients and 5,000 with hepatitis B virus). Berry Oncology has already committed over 200 million RMB (US $31 million) toward PreCar in the first phase and recently kicked off phase two. In addition, multiple cancer screening research projects are underway.
In August 2020, Berry Oncology launched a liver cancer early screening product, named “Lai Si Ning.” Based on Whole-Genome Sequencing Technology of cfDNA, the liquid biopsy can achieve a 95.42 percent sensitivity while maintaining the specificity of 97.91 percent. (To compare, the sensitivity of early liver cancer detection using traditional serum markers and imaging is only 63 percent.)
The company chose to focus on liver cancer because it is one of the more prevalent cancer types in China, but the plan is to expand to additional tumor types. “In the next three to five years,” says Zhou, “we will deliver research results on the early screening and diagnosis of five to eight high-risk and high-incidence cancers in China and bring the tests to market.”
Established in 2017 with offices in Fuzhou and Beijing, Berry Oncology’s mission is to “diagnose all cancers early, treat all patients precisely.” Their current offering includes products and services for identifying companion diagnostics indicators, monitoring response to treatment regimens, and predicting the prognosis of targeted and immune therapies. They’re also developing solutions for cancer screening and early detection. Supported by the technological, distribution, and financial advantages provided by Berry Genomics, Berry Oncology is quickly becoming a leader in cancer testing solutions.
Berry Oncology’s emphasis on catching early-stage cancer positions it to be a key contributor toward the goals of Healthy China 2030. In 2016, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China laid out a blueprint of national health targets that align with the UN’s sustainable development goals. The State Council (China’s cabinet) followed the initiative with specific guidelines for its 1.4 billion people, making it the world’s largest public health plan. It involves 15 major campaigns that shift the focus from treatment to prevention.
Early prevention and treatment of cancer is high on the agenda, and the potential market value of multi-cancer screening in China is expected to reach 49 billion RMB (US $7.6 billion) by 2030. Screenings of single cancers such as colorectal and liver cancer have been the first to develop and hit the market.
Berry Oncology is leading the charge. The company is utilizing Illumina products to further its research in advancing early cancer detection.
“With Illumina’s sophisticated, stable, and efficient systems in genetic testing, we have accelerated the implementation and application of our products in clinical practice in China, especially in the field of tumor genetic testing,” says Zhou.
“I have a dream that in the next few years, the NGS-based early cancer screening will be incorporated into the Chinese clinical application process, regulatory system, and payment system.”
In August 2021, Berry Oncology completed a series B1 round of financing, raising nearly 700 million RMB (US $99.15 million). For this genomics startup, it’s full steam ahead.