Sequenta Pockets $13M To Diagnose, Monitor Immune Systems Going Awry

12/8/10Follow @xconomy

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to run some clinical studies to gather more proof of the usefulness of the approach, Willis says. He wouldn’t say who his clinical collaborators on the project, what the lead application will be, when to expect findings to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, or when the technology will be ready for the marketplace. None of the company’s methods or early proof of concept experiments have yet been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Several big name scientists are on board as advisors, which might offer clues on where this is headed. The advisory board includes Ron Levy, Ron Davis, and Larry Steinman of Stanford University, as well as Betty Diamond of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Rob Holt of the University of British Columbia, and David Grainger of Cambridge University.

Willis offered up some hints about where the applications might be, speaking broadly. The immune system, as he notes, plays a role in a huge number of diseases. There are autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis in which the immune system starts attacking the joints, and multiple sclerosis where an overactive immune system attacks nerve cells. There are allergies, and cancers in which the immune system is deeply involved. Sometimes physicians want to suppress the immune system a certain amount, such as after organ transplantation, and sometimes they want to amplify a response to some specific bug, like through a vaccine.

By sequencing the repertoire of an individual’s immune system at certain points in time, there’s potential to specifically diagnose disease, offer more clarity on a patient’s prognosis, and monitor how a patient responds to therapy. “There are lots of shots on goal for this technology,” Willis says.

Sequenta says it doesn’t see any other competitor on the horizon trying to do the same thing for diagnostic purposes, although Seattle-based Adaptive TCR, a spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is doing something similar by providing T-cell profiling service to researchers.

Without diving into specifics about which applications come first, it’s hard to say how big the market opportunity might be segment by segment. But Chapman noted that she’s excited because each assay the company develops could have multiple applications, rather than just one like some other molecular diagnostic companies. She also has a long history of working with the founders before at ParAllele, adding, “we had a fantastic experience with them. They are incredibly smart guys.”

Willis, for his part, said he and Fahem are dreaming big at Sequenta. “We hope it’s an even bigger thing than ParAllele,” he says.

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