Epic Sciences Raises $13M, Advances Ultra-Sensitive Cell Diagnostics

Xconomy San Diego — 

[Corrected 11/14/12, 3:45 pm. See below.] Epic Sciences, a San Diego startup developing diagnostics to identify and analyze tumor cells and other rare cells from a blood sample, has raised $13 million in a Series B round of financing. Investors include Domain Associates, Roche Venture Fund, and Pfizer Venture Investments, and undisclosed individual investors, according to a statement from the company today.

As I explained in February, Epic was founded in 2008 with technology developed in the lab of Peter Kuhn, a cell biologist at The Scripps Research Institute (and San Diego Xconomist). He has described the approach, which employs high-definition imaging and high-performance computing to help analyze nucleated cells treated with fluorescing antibodies, as a “blood fluid biopsy.” The company says its approach can identify genomic biomarkers of circulating tumor cells (CTCs), such as the Her2 protein in breast cancer, providing the kind of specific information needed to determine which cancer drugs would be most effective.

David Nelson

“What we’re trying to provide is a real time biopsy of the disease that can be used to direct the right drug to the right patient at the right time,” says Epic CEO David Nelson, who spoke with me by phone this morning from Boston, where he’s attending the World Circulating Tumor Cells Summit. The power of the diagnostics lies in the ability to analyze CTCs over time, providing real-time information about the status of the disease and how well a prescribed course of treatment is working.

The technology represents a revolution in oncology, Nelson says, with the potential to turn cancer into a chronic-but-manageable disease—much like current treatment of HIV.

Domain partner Kim Kamdar, who is joining Epic’s board, is quoted in the statement as saying, “We see that Epic’s technology will not only have a major impact on clinical cancer treatments but also on the development of new cancer therapeutics and companion diagnostics.”

The company, which now has 25 employees and is growing fast, has been conducting more than 12 early stage clinical trials of the technology with seven pharmaceutical partners, Nelson says. The Phase I and II clinical trials, which will ultimately involve more than 1,500 patients, are intended to combine Epic’s diagnostics technology with specific anti-cancer compounds to create companion diagnostic products for each oncology drug.

Proceeds of the venture funding will be used to get “commercial ready for these diagnostics as they move through the pipeline,” Nelson says. The company would need FDA approval for each companion diagnostic application.

[Corrected to show TSRI’s Peter Kuhn, not Epic Sciences, has been working with Eric Topol.]  The company sees applications beyond cancer as well, Nelson says. For example, Scripps’ Kuhn has been working with the cardiologist Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and chief academic officer at Scripps Health, to detect a specific type of endothelial cell that is sloughed off before a heart attack.