Caldera founder Jim Watson dies as investors renew support for gene test

Jim Watson, whose personal battle with prostate cancer led him to co-found Caldera Health, has succumbed to the disease but investors are showing confidence in the company's gene testing technology by converting options into shares.

Mr Watson, who had been a scientific and management adviser up until the end of 2016, died on a week ago, Caldera's chief executive Rob Mitchell has confirmed.

Mr Watson co-founded the company with Richard Forster, who had also been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and died in January 2014.

The pair said they had been victims to flaws in the industry standard PSA test for the cancer, which throws up both false positives and negatives and doesn't distinguish between aggressive cancers and benign strains.

In 2012, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended against mass PSA screening because of those uncertainties and the resultant over-diagnosis and unnecessary prostatectomies.

Mr Watson, a pioneer of biotechnology in New Zealand, and Mr Forster performed the initial RNA biomarker selection and designed the process that led to Caldera's diagnostic gene signature.

The company's clinical study 2B, completed in December, shows that of 252 tissue samples tested using the technology, the overall sensitivity was 97%  and the specificity was also 97% for the diagnosis of prostate cancer, Mr Mitchell says. That compares with a sensitivity of 44% and specificity of 92% for the PSA test.

Mr Mitchell says the focus for the next six to 12 months is to transition the technology from a tissue-based diagnostic test to a non-invasive urine-based test, a simple "pee in a pot" test. To that end, Caldera is developing a prostate cell capture device that enables the cells to be captured from urine. RNA will then be isolated from the captured cells and used for analysis with the patent pending gene signature.

Investors in Caldera include the NZ Venture Investment Fund, the Mercy Ascot Health group, and Stephen Tindall's K1W1 investment company. This week Caldera reported to the Companies Office that 603,125 new shares had been issued, lifting the total on issue by about 5% to about 1.3 million.

Mr Mitchell says the shares were issued for existing investors who wanted to convert their options and that was a sign of their confidence in the business.

(BusinessDesk receives assistance from Callaghan Innovation to cover the commercialisation of innovation.)


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