Debiopharm, a Swiss biopharmaceutical group, has made what is described as a substantial investment in young cancer diagnostics firm Diagnoplex, through an extension to the latter’s CHF 10 million (about $10.4 million) Series A financing round. Diagnoplex says the Debiopharm investment is subject to certain milestones, but the first half will be made up front. Novartis Venture Fund, NeoMed, and Initiative Capital Romandie participated in the original CHF 10 million Series A fundraising. Novartis Venture Fund was also a seed investor in Diagnoplex.
“We believe Diagnoplex is well-positioned to address a huge unmet medical need in colon cancer screening,” remarks Thierry Mauvernay, Debiopharm executive vice-president. “The company has made strong progress over the past two years, and we are happy to contribute to its continued growth and development.”
Diagnoplex is developing blood-based cancer diagnostics using a technology known as single-channel quantitative multiplex reverse transcriptase-PCR (scqmRT-PCR), which the firm claims can quantify up to 60 transcripts simultaneously. The firm's lead diagnostic product, Colox, is in development for the early detection of colon cancer.
The scqmRT-PCR technology was originally developed by Diagnoplex founder and CEO Stavros Therianos, Ph.D., while at the University of Rochester, NY. Its major benefit in comparison with current amplification techniques such as RT-qPCR is that while existing approaches allow the parallel quantification of up to just four to five mRNAs, scqmRT- PCR allows the simultaneous quantification of up to 60 gene transcripts, routinely.
The company’s flagship Colox test has been developed in collaboration with researchers at the University Hospital of Lausanne, Switzerland, and has been optimized to detect a 24-gene expression signature for colorectal cancer, in samples of peripheral blood. This signature includes markers for angiogenesis, tissue invasion, and immune response.
Colox is being validated in a clinical study in Switzerland, Germany, and South Korea. Interim results from the trial, which will enroll 1,400 participants, are expected during mid-2011. However, Diagnoplex claims results from a pilot study in 140 individuals have shown Colox is even capable of detecting precancerous adenomatous polyps.