HONG KONG – Lucence Diagnostics Pte Ltd., a genomic medicine company headquartered in Singapore, has secured $20 million in series A investment. The company is focused on inventing liquid biopsy tests for cancer screening and personalizing care. 

The round was led by IHH Healthcare Bhd., one of the largest private health care groups in Asia. SGInnovate Ptd. Ltd. participated in the funding event alongside existing investors, including Heliconia Capital Management Pte Ltd., businessmen Lim Kaling and Koh Boon Hwee.

“The funds will be used to scale up our business and lab operations and make our tests available to more patients. Today, our tests are available in the U.S. and Asia customers via our CAP- (College of American Pathologists) accredited, CLIA- (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) certified lab in Singapore. We are also building out a lab in the San Francisco Bay area, which will increase access and decrease turnaround time for patients,” Min-Han Tan, founder and CEO of Lucence, told BioWorld.

 The company said the investment would also support prospective clinical trials that will examine two main areas. The first one studies late-stage cancer patients, especially lung cancer patients in the U.S., to demonstrate sensitivity to actionable variants. The second one is researching early stage detection. The company said it would evaluate the performance of its technology in the early detection of multiple cancers.

“Liquid biopsy is a gamechanger in our endeavors to provide cancer patients with better, value-driven outcomes through precise treatment selections and more affordable care,” Kelvin Loh, CEO (designate) of IHH Healthcare, said.

Lucence plans to further develop early stage detection technology.

“As part of our development plans, we are currently designing a study that will involve 100,000 participants to validate our early stage detection test. We plan to recruit the first patient in the middle of 2020 and launch in the U.S. and Asia,” Tan added.

The medical company was spun out of the Singaporean government’s statutory board, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, in 2016. In 2018, the company introduced Liquid Hallmark, its flagship next-generation sequencing test. It is a clinical sequencing blood test that detects both cancer-causing gene mutations and viruses within a single assay and with a 10-day turnaround time. The test has been used by oncologists in cancer diagnosis, monitoring and treatment selection for more than 1,000 patients in Asia, the company said.

The non-invasive test detects relevant mutations across the advanced or late stages of 14 cancer types, including lung, breast, colorectal, pancreatic, nasopharyngeal and liver cancers. People who have tested negative for single gene mutations and need more comprehensive tumor profiling are also main target patients.

In addition, the test also covers microsatellite instability (MSI) and cancer-related viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Liquid Hallmark uses Ampli Mark, the company’s core molecular watermarking technology, for accurate sequencing results. Ampli Mark is an amplicon-based sequencing technology with specificity of up to 99.9%, according to Lucence’s previous clinical test results. It detects genomic alterations in the cancers, including somatic mutations, MSI and viral DNA, from circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) present in the blood. Combined with an AI-powered clinical analytics engine, it increases treatment options.

The company’s laboratory in Singapore became the first lab in Southeast Asia to be CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited, enabling it to bring Liquid Hallmark to physicians and patients in the U.S. Besides the lab and genetics clinic in Singapore, Lucence operates offices in Hong Kong, San Francisco, the U.S. and Suzhou, China.

IHH Healthcare is one of the largest health care groups in the world by market capitalization of MYR47.82 billion (US$11.5 billion) as of Nov. 21. The group is listed on the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia and the Main Board of Singapore Exchange Securities Trading Ltd.

The group employs more than 55,000 people across 80 hospitals in 10 countries worldwide, notably in Singapore, Brunei, China, Hong Kong SAR, Malaysia, Turkey, India and the United Arab Emirates.

IHH owns Singapore-based Parkway Pantai Ltd., one of Asia's largest hospital operators, with a network of 29 hospitals throughout the region, including Malaysia, Singapore, India, China and Brunei. Among its brands are the Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles, Parkway and Pantai brands, which are among the most prestigious in Asia.

Parkway Pantai also owns IMU Health Sdn. Bhd., which oversees higher learning institutions such as the International Medical College (IMC) and the International Medical University (IMU) in Malaysia. The hospital operator also has Acibadem Holdings Ltd., Turkey’s private health care provider. Acibadem offers health care services across 22 hospitals in Turkey, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Amsterdam, and is renowned in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the North Africa region.

On Nov. 21, IHH Healthcare (KLSE: IHH) stock price closed at MYR5.45 (US$1.30).

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