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Start-Up Developing Microbial Cancer Detection Tests

Blood sample vials

(Ahmad Ardity, Pixabay)

13 Aug. 2020. A new company, spun off from university biomedical engineering labs, is creating early cancer diagnostics by analyzing microbial genetics in simple blood samples. Micronoma, in San Diego, is also raising $3 million in its seed funding round, equity financing gained at or soon after start-up.

Micronoma is licensing discoveries by its scientific founders at the Center for Microbiome Innovation at University of California in San Diego, part of the university’s engineering school. Research at the center by Micronoma’s scientific founders Greg Poore, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate, and Rob Knight, the center’s director, highlight contributions of cancer-related microbes in detecting the disease.

Poore, Knight, and colleagues published a paper in the journal Nature in March that re-analyzed whole genome and transcription studies in the Cancer Genome Atlas, associating microbial data in blood samples with early detection of cancer. The Cancer Genome Atlas, provided by National Cancer Institute, characterizes blood and tissue samples from more than 20,000 cancer patients representing 33 types of cancer, as well as healthy individuals, with associated genomic, transcription, and protein data.

The team’s analysis of more than 18,100 samples from nearly 10,500 patients in the Cancer Genome Atlas shows each of the 33 types of cancer in the atlas have a characteristic microbial signature. Some of those microbial associations, such as human papillomavirus with cervical or head and neck cancer, are already known, but their findings revealed many other previously unknown associations. The researchers then used thousands of other microbial cancer signatures to train machine-learning algorithms to detect the presence and type of cancer in blood samples.

The team’s tests of the algorithm show microbial signatures can detect cancer in its early stages, when tumors are small or only starting to grow or spread. In addition, the researchers took separate blood samples from 100 prostate, lung, and melanoma (advanced skin) cancer patients and an equal number without cancer, and analyzed the samples with their algorithm. The results show the algorithm can not only discriminate between samples from cancer and non-cancer individuals, it also can identify the type of cancer with a high degree of sensitivity, or true positives, and specificity, or true negatives.

While the Nature paper findings show the technology’s ability to discriminate among multiple cancer types, the company’s first target is early detection of lung cancer.  Micronoma says lung cancer in its early stages is difficult to detect even with liquid biopsies, blood tests that analyze circulating DNA or use more complex genomic techniques.

Micronoma is raising $3 million in seed financing, led by Symbiosis LLC in Washington, D.C. Symbiosis offers shared medical space and facilities, but is now branching into venture investments. No other investors were disclosed.

Micronoma is also founded by Sandrine Miller Montgomery, a co-author of the Nature paper and former executive director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation. “Between the technical expertise and business acumen of our founding teams and the strong initial financial support of our investors,” says Miller Montgomery, now Micronoma’s CEO in a company statement, “we are now ready to expeditiously develop and commercialize our first assay, with an overall aim to decrease the number of preventable deaths from disease.”

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