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DermTech Looks to Build on Alternative Test for Skin Cancer

Xconomy San Diego — 

People who are at risk for melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, typically must visit their dermatologist for a full body examination every six to 12 months. If a spot appears suspicious— such as a mole-like lesion that has been changing in size, shape, or color—the doctor usually will remove all or part of it, and send the biopsy to a diagnostic laboratory for analysis.

“It’s not a very good way to catch cancer early,” according to DermTech CEO John Dobak. It also might be unnecessary. Of the 12 million skin biopsies done in the United States each year, Dobak estimates that only about 3 million show evidence of cancer.

San Diego-based DermTech has developed a different approach, which uses a sticky adhesive patch to lift skin tissue from the uppermost layers of a patient’s skin. Although the company was founded almost 20 years ago, DermTech restarted in 2007 and is now commercializing its adhesive patch as a non-invasive method for collecting skin biopsies.

A doctor then sends the sample to DermTech, which operates a state-licensed clinical laboratory and tests the sample by measuring the levels of two specific RNA molecules whose presence is associated with melanoma.

According to Dobak, two independent studies have validated the diagnostic test, which has a false positive rate of less than 1 percent.

Dobak says DermTech’s non-invasive method of collecting skin also is preferable to biopsy for patients who are at elevated risk for infection or wound complications, or are taking anti-coagulant medications, have multiple lesions, or lesions in cosmetically sensitive areas.

“We think we have a great commercial opportunity in front of us,” Dobak says. “We’re really the only company that’s addressing clinical dermatology with a molecular diagnostic at the point of care. Most molecular diagnostics are sold to pathologists and oncologists.”

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