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success rate ought to climb, Parkinson figured.
“The inefficiency in drug development is not because of lack of targets, or the industry’s ability to create good molecules, be they small molecules or large molecules,” Parkinson says. “The inefficiency largely lies in the fact we don’t have an efficient way to categorize tumor biology in a way that’s relevant to use of therapeutics.”
Over the last three years, Nodality has sought to turn this idea from a laboratory concept into what Parkinson calls a “standardized, industrialized” process which was “no small feat.” The process is performed in house at Nodality, so researchers at a drug company, or doctors at a medical center, need to send their samples in for analysis. Besides the company’s headquarters in South San Francisco, Nodality has a Nashville, TN, office that’s staffed by experts in flow cytometry, many of whom previously worked for Lab Corp, Parkinson says. The company has raised about $50 million since its founding in 2006, and now has about 50 employees.
Nodality is hoping to impress blood cancer experts with its new technology at the American Society of Hematology meeting in Orlando, FL in December. Some big decisions for the company’s commercial strategy—like the cost of its test—still have to be worked out, Parkinson says. Eventually, insurance reimbursement will be a part of the equation—although it’s not necessary when Big Pharma companies are just using the technology for their own research purposes. Assuming Nodality can generate some cash flow from its initial cancer tests, it will have more freedom to pursue some ideas it is chasing in improving the individualized treatment of autoimmune diseases.
It’s all still early in the game for Nodality, and the next year will clearly be crucial for the company’s bid to gain acceptance from physicians. Parkinson pointed out that the company has made sure to collaborate with thought leaders like those who are part of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG), the kind of people who can influence their peers when it comes to recommending a new technology. Many of them were “appropriately skeptical” when Nodality first started talking to them, but they have joined the cause, and now have helped craft the tests to make sure they are relevant in the clinic, not just the lab.
The potential impact for cancer and autoimmune disease, Parkinson says, could be nothing short of historic. The Nodality approach, he says, could do for cancer and autoimmune disease what high-powered quantitative viral tests did for enabling better HIV treatment strategies in the 1990s.
“I firmly believe the technology we are developing has the capability of giving that kind of efficiency leap or productivity gain to drug development in the cancer and autoimmune space. That’s why I’m doing this,” Parkinson says. “This will change the practice of medicine.”
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