Epic Sciences Inc. raised $40 million in a series D round, proving investors still have strong interest in the 9-year-old liquid biopsy specialist. The San Diego-based company has taken in about $85 million since it spun out of the Scripps Research Institute in 2008. Its most recent round was led by Hermed Capital. Altos Capital Partners, Domain Associates, Genomic Health Inc., Pagoda Investment, Reach Tone Ltd., RMI Partners, Sabby Capital and VI Ventures also participated in the series D financing.
"As Epic has continued to grow and evolve, we see this financing round as a sign of investor confidence," Murali Prahalad, president and CEO of Epic, told Medical Device Daily. "That confidence isn't just in liquid biopsy, but in our particular business strategy, and some of the business partnerships that we've been able to establish."
What makes Epic so attractive to investors is its technology's potential. The company is developing diagnostic tests to rapidly quantify the proteomic and genomic changes that occur over time during the treatment of a patient's cancer, from a minimally invasive liquid biopsy. Epic calls its approach "no cell left behind." Through this technique, the company is able to analyze about six million cells across more than 90 parameters to capture and analyze all possible types of circulating tumor cells.
Prahalad said Epic is different from its competitors because it is focused on developing predictive tests that can help inform treatment decisions as a patient's cancer progresses, as opposed to disease detection.
"The proceeds of this round will enable to expand the clinical development of a series of series predictive test of drug response," Prahalad said. "The proceeds will also allow us to accelerate advances in our no cell left behind technology."
Those advances include the characterization of rare leukocyte blood cell populations with next generation imaging and big data analytics. These enhancements are designed to drive transformative insights into the cellular drivers of response or resistance to key drug classes such as immuno-oncology drugs.
Investors aren't the only ones interested in Epic. The company boasts more than 40 partnerships with diagnostics firms and pharmaceutical companies. Last year, Epic teamed up with Redwood City, Calif.-based Genomic Health.
Under the partnership, Epic's Oncotypedx AR-V7 liquid biopsy test would be marketed through Genomic Health's commercial channel. The blood-based test detects the V7 variant of the androgen receptor protein (AR-V7) in the nucleus of CTC- information that can help guide treatment selection in patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. As part of the agreement, Genomic Health made an equity investment in Epic. However Epic and Genomic did not reveal financial terms of the collaboration. Oncotypedx AR-V7 is scheduled to launch later this year.
Epic has published clinical data in the journals JAMA Oncology and European Urology on the Oncotypedx AR-V7 test in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. These data show that patients with detectable levels of AR-V7 positive circulating tumor cells in their blood had significantly better clinical outcomes when treated with taxane chemotherapy than more expensive targeted therapies.
SPLASHES IN LIQUID BIOPSY POOL
The true clinical impact of liquid biopsy technology remains to be seen, but the potential to represent a major shift in cancer detection and treatment exists. Grail Inc. has garnered significant attention in the space pulling down funding rounds that could stretch past the billion dollar mark. Earlier this year, Grail Inc. raised more than $900 million through the first close of its series B round, putting it on the path to develop a blood-based test for cancer screening. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company could close on the remainder of the investment prior to the end of 1Q17. In its series A round, Grail raised about $100 million from the likes of Bill Gates, Bezos Expeditions and Sutter Hill Ventures.
Grail was launched by San Diego-based Illumina Inc. a little more than a year ago. (See Medical Device Daily, Jan. 12, 2016.) The company has set its sights on early cancer detection so that treatment can begin early.
"I think it is completely worthy as a concept," Prahalad said of Grail's mission. "I think it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of money to help establish when a person has an overt cancer that needs to be treated..."
Late last year, Grail launched the Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas (CCGA) study, which will enroll at least 7,000 cancer patients and 3,000 healthy individuals. (See Medical Device Daily, Dec. 6, 2016.) The study will interrogate the biology of both tumor biopsy tissue samples and the circulating, tumor-derived nucleic acids in blood.
Large-scale studies like CCGA will support the development of a pan-cancer screening test for asymptomatic individuals, which could, according to Grail, make a major dent in global cancer mortality. The company said these studies have to include samples from tens of thousands of people in order for researchers to identify the patterns required to detect many types of cancer.
Other competitors in the liquid space include, Boreal Genomics Inc., Natera Inc., Personal Genome Diagnostics Inc., Pathway Genomics Corp. and Trovagene Inc. While both blood-based and urine-based assays qualify as liquid biopsy tests, the majority of players in the space are focused on blood, leaving San Diego-based Trovagene Inc. one of few contenders on the urine-based side of the market.