Biocept Targets Spreading Tumors With Advance in Diagnostics

8/20/10Follow @bvbigelow

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individual investors, including the $2.3 million it collected earlier this month. Coutts declined to say how much capital Biocept has raised altogether, but the company now has about 55 full-time employees and was founded in 1997—which makes Biocept’s continuing existence something of a testament to the patience and determination of its investors.

A Korean-American biomedical engineer, Soon Kap Hahn, founded Biocept here with support from Bob Reiss, a legendary San Diego entrepreneur and biomedical engineer. Coutts told me the concept in the beginning was to develop microarray technology for biological screening of proteins or nucleic acids.

“Biocept had a strong engineering corps focused on asset arrays, so it was like Affymetrix,” Coutts said, referring to the DNA microarrays pioneer that was founded in Santa Clara, CA three years before Biocept. “But after six or seven years with no commercial success,” Reiss brought in a new CEO who refocused the company on microfluidics, according to Coutts. The idea was to focus the technology on pre-natal diagnostics—based on fetal cells that can be found in blood sample taken from the pregnant mother. The concept proved more challenging than expected, however.

The company suffered another setback when Reiss was diagnosed with renal cancer in January 2005, and died four months later, at 66. His widow, Claire K.T. Reiss, became the chairwoman of Biocept’s board.

Coutts, who was named as Biocept’s CEO in 2008, told me he had just lost a daughter to cancer, and he convinced the board that cancer diagnostics was the best use of Biocept’s technology. After spending 30 years working in San Diego’s pharmaceutical and biotech community, including stints at Cypress Bioscience, Triad Therapeutics, and La Jolla Pharmaceutical—Coutts says he is determined to bring the technology to market.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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