Data Companies Carve Out Niche In DNA Test Interpretation

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Foundation Medicine started a collaboration with N-of-One for interpretation of its tumor sample tests, but it has since taken that function in-house. That’s fine, says Cournoyer: Other potential customers such as hospital chains are adding genomic testing to their clinical practice, but will still need help with the interpretation.

Are there enough customers yet to support a robust group of companies like CollabRx and N-of-One? It might still be too early, and technology pundits often wonder which is worse: jumping on an emerging opportunity too late or jumping in too early.

Mika says the field isn’t moving as fast as he expected when his former company Tegal, a publicly traded supplier of devices for semiconductor manufacturers that faced declining sales after the financial crisis, decided to pivot to a more promising health care field by acquiring CollabRx in 2012 and adopting its name.

“I didn’t appreciate how early it was,” Mika says.

Tegal acquired the clinical oncology database and network of expert cancer doctors assembled by CollabRx founder Jay “Marty” Tenenbaum, an Internet commerce pioneer and cancer survivor. Back when Tenenbaum was diagnosed, he’d been frustrated that the power of the Web and data analytics hadn’t yet been deployed to help doctors sift through the emerging genomics research.

CollabRx now offers a Web-based software service called Genetic Variant Annotation Service (GVA) to laboratories conducting DNA-based tests. A lab submits results for a patient, and CollabRx sends back a report with treatment options, including drugs already approved for the patient’s condition, drugs awaiting approval, and experimental drugs in clinical trials that are actively recruiting, Mika says.

CollabRx also publishes free Web-based apps called Therapy Finders for physicians and patients on its own website and through a media partner, Everyday Health’s MedPage Today.

Since 2012, CollabRx has begun collaborations with the University of Chicago Medical Center and The Jackson Laboratory, a biomedical research institution in Bar Harbor, Maine. The company also has inked deals for diagnostic test interpretation with companies including Quest Diagnostics, Cynvenio Biosystems of Westlake Village, CA; the Belgian company OncoDNA; and Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies, a division of Waltham, MA-based Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE: TMO).

However, Mika says the volume of testing from its partner labs has been considerably lower than he expected this year. Oncologists at top academic centers might place frequent orders for DNA testing, but most cancer patients are treated in community hospitals, where doctors place fewer orders, Mika says.

CollabRx revenues for its 2014 fiscal year ending March 31 were $658,000, and the company reported a net loss of $3.3 million. The company’s share price, which began the year at $3.80, slipped below $1 in October.

CollabRx currently has a staff of 16, including 10 employees who keep its oncology database updated.

Mika says the CollabRx business model is solid, but the timing isn’t optimal. Wall Street’s perception is that CollabRx can’t control its own destiny, because it’s dependent on the ability of diagnostics companies to sell their tests, Mika says. However, he’s hopeful that the testing rate for CollabRx partners will pick up over the coming year. In the meantime, he’s exploring business deals.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options to get what we believe is a valuable asset funded,” Mika says.

On Nov. 10, CollabRx announced a co-marketing deal with Cambridge, MA-based Cartagenia, which offers clinical labs software to manage their workflows as they conduct next-generation sequencing and then report the results.

Meanwhile, N-of-One CEO Cournoyer takes a more optimistic view than Mika does. She thinks … Next Page »

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