Despite its early struggles in a sluggish market, BioCurex (Richmond, British Columbia) is finally hitting its stride.

The company agreed to license to Abbott Laboratories (Abbott Park, Illinois) technology using its Recaf (receptor for alpha fetoprotein) biomarker to detect cancer, a deal that marks "a very major event for us as a company," said Ricardo Moro, BioCurex's CEO.

Although financial terms were not disclosed, Moro said BioCurex stands to receive up-front and milestone fees, along with royalties on any product sales. That money will be used by the company to develop a therapeutic pipeline of selective cancer antibodies.

As well as bringing in revenue, the deal with Abbott has other implications for BioCurex, such as adding credibility to its Recaf platform, Moro told Diagnostics & Imaging Week's sister publication, BioWorld Today. And, since Abbott received semi-exclusive rights to commercialize products using Recaf, BioCurex has the opportunity to consider licensing agreements with other companies.

BioCurex was founded by Moro in 1997 to develop the Recaf technology. In 2001, the company moved into a public vehicle, formerly known as Whispering Oaks International, and continued development.

But in 2001 and 2002, the company encountered difficulties, Moro said, adding, "It was a difficult time for the entire market."

For the past few years, BioCurex made slow but steady progress that culminated in this first significant licensing deal.

"We've put an enormous amount of effort into this," he said, and the Recaf technology has been showing results for at least a year. Abbott is expected to further develop the technology and incorporate it into its Architect system for diagnosing and monitoring cancer.

A molecule that is present on cancer cells and absent on normal or benign cells, Recaf has been found in all cancer types studied by BioCurex, including lung and breast cancers, for which there are no biomarkers, and it can identify cancer using blood tests as well as tissues samples, Moro said.

Recaf has a high sensitivity, locating cancers at least 84% or 85% of the time. But, he said, what sets it apart from other biomarkers is its specificity, or its lack of detecting false positives. Moro said Recaf has a specificity of 95%, meaning only an average of five out of 100 cancers detected turn out to be negative.

For instance, the existing prostate cancer biomarker prostate-specific antigen (PSA) has a high sensitivity but only a 34% specificity, so "two-thirds of those samples were taken without need," Moro said. "With a simple blood test, and a specificity of 95%, what [Recaf] is basically doing is preventing those biopsies from having to be done.

"As a physician, I would like to get to the point where every patient who goes to the doctor for a yearly physical has the doctor take a drop of blood from a finger" and put the blood through a Recaf test, which would be designed like a pregnancy test, he said. BioCurex has retained the rights to that potential diagnostic application.

Recaf also is being tested in radioactive imaging to locate tumors.

Moro said the company is content for now to develop an application through the proof-of-concept studies before licensing it and moving on to another application, though eventually, he would like to see BioCurex in a position to commercialize much of its own technology.

Meanwhile, the licensing fees and royalties are expected to fund development of a therapeutic line based on the Recaf biomarker.

"The therapy market is huge compared to diagnostics," Moro said. "We'll be moving the company closer to the goal in the next 24 months."

BioCurex is developing antibodies that selectively target only cancer cells, while causing no harm to normal cells. Although these antibodies are still in the early research and development stage, Moro said results appear "very encouraging."

The company might consider a financing round when products begin moving into human trials, but Moro said he hopes to generate most of the needed revenue by leveraging the Recaf technology in deals such as the one with Abbott.

"It feels like we've reached the finish line, and now we're starting to prepare for next phase."