A Utah company that plans to develop biomarker tests to diagnose genetic disease was formally launched Wednesday, with the announcement that it has closed a $5.8 million funding round.
LineaGen is a company spun off research at the University of Utah, which has discovered more genes related to diseases than any other university. Besides developing diagnostic tools using biomarkers, the company plans to license intellectual property to companies to help develop treatments.
In an announcement made in the governor's board room at the Capitol, LineaGen leaders said they secured funding from vSpring Capital, Sanderling Biomedical Ventures and Mesa Verde Venture partners. The money will be used to help develop and bring to market tools to diagnose common but complex diseases that have a genetic component.
"This is a classic example of how leaders in Utah's life-science industry, investment and higher-education research communities are working together to provide global leadership in personalized and predictive medicine," said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
LineaGen's chief executive officer, Dr. Michael S. Paul, summarized the company's efforts as the "commercialization of new and better ways to diagnose and treat" genetic disease. He predicts that the company will have its first molecular diagnostic test within three to five years, possibly in one of several areas the company is now targeting, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, autism, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis.
The company's efforts fit with a growing trend toward "personalized" medicine. That doesn't mean compounding a drug just for an individual, but it does mean understanding molecular, genetic differences in order to predict more accurately which treatment might work best for an individual.
A test might help clinicians not only provide an early diagnosis, but decide what type of care to offer. And early diagnosis may greatly impact the course of both treatment and the disease itself, said Dr. Mark Leppert, LineaGen's chief scientific advisor and co-chairman of the human-genetics department at the U.
Simply identifying a predisposition to a disease such as scoliosis may open the door to preventing it, said Dr. Dinesh Patel, manager director of vSpring Capital, who will serve on LineaGen's board of directors.
Understanding disease at a molecular level offers the promise of making health care more affordable, a diagnosis made early when disease is typically most treatable and less expensive, said Dr. Stephen Prescott, chairman of LineaGen's board, president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and a member of the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research.
Among the powerful tools expected to aid LineaGen's efforts are strategic partnerships with U. researchers and use of the Utah Population Database, which has more than 10 million records from more than 6 million individuals in Utah, Idaho and surrounding states.
The database will be aided by "two powerful and complementary resources," according to publicist Kendall Thomson: the Utah Genetic Reference Project, with clinical and genetic data from 650 individuals in 47 Utah families who provided a reference set that has already been used as part of the Human Genome Project and the International HapMap Consortium, and use of the Electronic Medical Record data warehouse, which contains medical information that links to the Utah Population Database.
The resources the U. offers are already proven: They helped identify several cancer genes, including two linked to breast cancer and one to colon cancer.
"I think where the great payoff is will be in human and financial terms," said Prescott, who added that much has still to be decided. For instance, will the company set up a reference lab that can analyze lab samples and return test results or will they come up with diagnostic kits that can be administered, for example, in a doctor's office? It's too soon to say.
Leppert said none of the company's goals could be realized without the people of Utah, who are unequaled in their willingness to participate in medical research and data collection.The U. will benefit from royalty and other forms of income to LineaGen, especially licensing, but the exact terms of the agreement are "both confidential and complex," although fairly typical, said Thomson.
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