DermTech Raises $5.6M to Develop New Test for Deadliest Skin Cancer

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego-based DermTech, which is developing a non-invasive diagnostic test for the deadliest form of skin cancer, said it has raised $5.6 million in Series B funding.

Jacobs Investment Co., the Del Mar, CA-based investment arm of Qualcomm scion Gary Jacobs, led the new round of financing, which was joined by new and existing individual investors who were not identified. The funding will be used to complete the development and validation of the company’s quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) assay. DermTech said it also is establishing a clinical laboratory in San Diego to analyze skin samples and provide the results to patients’ physicians.

“We’re looking to get the test certified in the next year to 18 months,” DermTech CEO John Dobak said recently by phone.

DermTech says its diagnostic assay can be used to test skin cells lifted from darkened skin lesions or moles by a strip of adhesive tape, avoiding the need for a surgical biopsy that requires a physician to remove a skin sample for a pathological examination.

DermTech logoThe company’s proprietary assay analyzes the RNA expression of skin cell genes to determine if the compounds are associated with melanoma, which causes a majority of skin cancer-related deaths. The RNA from sample skin cells is isolated, amplified, and analyzed using the tools of molecular biology.

DermTech estimates that about 135,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Of more than 12,000 skin cancer deaths expected in 2013, the American Cancer Society estimates that 9,480, or 79 percent, will be from melanoma. About 62 percent of melanoma cases and 45 percent of melanoma deaths occur before age 65, which DermTech says represents a significant burden on the healthcare system in the U.S.

Early detection of melanomas, on the other had, can lead to high cure rates. The treatment is almost always a simple surgical resection, the company says.

Dobak, the founder and CEO of several venture-backed life sciences startups in San Diego, told me he joined DermTech a little over a year ago to “pilot the company toward commercialization.”

The company was founded over a decade ago, and had raised over $20 million in venture capital. But Dobak said it  adopted a new business strategy in 2007 that focused on PCR assays. DermTech now has 11 employees and about a half-dozen consultants.