Every day in Belgium, 59 individuals are victims of a stroke[1]. The first cause of all deaths, cardiovascular diseases could be avoided in 80% of cases.

The biotech company, SPINOVIT, has developed a new biomarker to quantify the risk of future cardiovascular disease. A simple blood sample would enable this to be measured and the patient treated before it is too late.

Are you at this very moment developing a cardiovascular disease with potentially irreversible damage? So far doctors have only been able to determine a statistical risk based on certain factors such as hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, smoking or overweight. However, these factors fail to reflect the physiological status of the patient.

Find out the true risk thanks to HbNO

The concentration of a molecule present in the blood would provide an evaluation of the true risk to which the patient is exposed. This molecule is nitric oxide, NO. For the past 11 years, UCLouvain research scientists have been trying to measure it. Produced by the endothelial cells which line the blood vessels; NO protects the latter: "When a patient is in poor vascular health, their capacity to produce nitric oxide decreases, explains Professor Jean-Luc Balligand, Director of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at UCLouvain. In our laboratory, we observed that in the blood, NO binds to haemoglobin to form a complex called HbNO (Nitrosylated haemoglobin). Our novel concept was that measurement of this molecule would provide a view of the health of the vessels".

Measurement of HbNO requires certain specific conditions and needs appropriate equipment. The team therefore designed a syringe for collection of the blood sample which is then centrifuged and frozen at -80°C. "To measure the HbNO, we use electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometry. This quantification of HbNO gives us an indirect measurement of the quantity of NO produced by the blood vessels. In this way, we can evaluate the vascular health of a patient and thus their probability of developing cardiovascular disease", explains Dr Nancy Van Overstraeten, founder and CEO of SPINOVIT, the UCLouvain spin-off created to bring this solution to fruition.

Multiple applications

To demonstrate that the measurement of HbNO is predictive of cardiovascular problems, an on-going study involving over 1500 volunteers will continue until autumn 2023. The patients are tested before surgery and followed up for one year: "Anaesthetists need a tool with which to evaluate the individual risk of complications, in particular cardiovascular, related to a surgical procedure, adds Nancy Van Overstraeten. We therefore thought of validating the concept of our biomarker HbNO in the context of the preoperative consultation to check if this HbNO could be predictive of complications".

Besides cardiologists and anaesthetists, endocrinologists could use this test to detect a developing cardiovascular disease in diabetics or overweight patients. It could aid gynaecologists to detect the risks of pre-eclampsia or complications related to a contraceptive pill. This test could also help pharmaceutical firms to select patients who would most benefit from a treatment for cardiovascular disease or again, to improve the risk stratification of candidates for insurance.

Feedback for patients on their efforts

As Professor Balligand observes: "Patients want a tool which will measure the efficacy of the efforts they make with their diet, exercise, quitting smoking but also the effects of their medicines. As a doctor I can say that theoretically, all this reduces the risk. If, in addition, we could give the patients measurable evidence of their efforts, this would encourage them and increase their treatment adherence".

Once validated, the test could be performed in several certified laboratories in Belgium and throughout Europe. "That would avoid the use of the sometimes very costly medicines needed to treat sequelae which could have been avoided. One euro spent in prevention is ten euros saved in treatment. Improved targeting of at-risk patients represents an economy for INAMI, the insurance companies and public health overall. As for patients who will avoid infarction, stroke or thrombosis and their sequelae, they will gain up to 25 years of life lived in good health", concludes Nancy Van Overstraeten.

One million raised in 2022

The Walloon biotech SPINOVIT is sponsored by three prestigious investment funds: the UCLouvain VIVES, W.IN.G by Digital Wallonia, and Invest.BW, a Belgian regional investor. 

Philippe Durieux, the CEO of Sopartec, the technology transfer and investment company of UCLouvain, and VIVES Fund has confidence in the spin-off and its potential: "It's truly a revolution in individual cardiovascular risk prevention, a major societal challenge. This solution, he continues, may be found to be useful as much for individuals who know they are at risk as for those who are unaware of their risk. Among the latter may be young people, amateur or elite athletes."

Spinovit has just raised a seed round of 535,000 € and has received a repayable advance of 470,000 € from Wallonia to demonstrate the predictability of its cardiovascular biomarker. A second investment round is planned at the end of 2023.


[1] Belgian cardiology league