Their method detects early signs of disease in the lungs

27 november, 2020

Respiratory diseases are one of the leading causes of death and disability in the world. PExA, part of Sahlgrenska Science Parks community, provides researchers with a technology to discover early signs of disease in the lungs – to enable treatment at an early stage and improve the outcome for the patient.

About 65 million people suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, and 3 million die from it each year, making it the third leading cause of death worldwide, according to WHO. In Sweden more than half a million people is diagnosed with COPD and approximately eight percent of the population suffer from asthma. Common to all respiratory diseases is that getting the correct diagnosis as early as possible can be crucial to how serious the disease becomes.

”Lung diseases affecting small airways often do not cause symptoms until later in the course of the disease. Detecting early signs of the disease is often crucial to initiate adequate treatment at an early stage, when it is still possible to reverse the progression of the disease,” says Anna-Carin Olin, researcher and one of the inventors of PExA, and today the company’s research director.

It is within this area PExA hopes to make a difference. Their technology provides lung researchers with a non-invasive method for collection of microscopic particles from the small airways, to enable identification of chemical changes in the composition and find potential biomarkers for respiratory diseases at an early stage. The instrument collects small droplets from the exhaled air that arises when small airways close and re-open. Analysing these particles may enable more specific diagnosis for lung patients, better monitoring of the patients’ condition and possibly new individualised treatments of respiratory diseases.

The method was developed by Anna-Carin Olin and her research group at the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AMM) at the Sahlgrenska Academy in 2005. The company PExA was founded in 2014 to bring the product to market. PExAs instrument is today used by lung research centres within the health services, in academia and in pharmaceutical companies, and Anna-Carin Olin with team PExA recently won the Arvid Carlsson Award for their contribution to lung medicine.

Erik Ekbo, CEO at PExA, has over ten years of international experience in sales and business development in leading global medical technology companies, most recently from Boston Scientific with focus on asthma products. He early discovered the need to access information from the small airways to improve the outcome for lung patients.

”The lung is often described as a ’black box’. Accessing information from the small airways is a prerequisite to enable early identification of lung diseases and find new treatments,” says Erik Ekbo.

PExAs long-term goal is to develop new diagnostic methods for the care of patients with lung disease. In the nearer future Anna-Carin Olin and Erik Ekbo hope their instrument will play a role in the scientific struggle to find out more about the new corona virus. Two clinical trials have already started, where PEXA’s instrument is used in covid-19 research.

”Depending on the outcome of the ongoing studies, we may get very interesting results that might lead to the development of new methods or knowledge about covid-19,” says Erik Ekbo.

The Arvid Carlsson Award ceremony at Park Annual on 1 Oct 2020

From the left: Charlotta Gummeson, CEO, Sahlgrenska SP, Leif Johansson, Chairman of the board, AstraZeneca, Anna-Carin Olin, PExA, Marianne Dicander Alexandersson, Chairman of the Board, Sahlgrenska SP, Jens Nielsen, CEO, BII (Last year’s winner of the Arvid Carlsson Award).