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Post-Surgical Fluid Cancer Analytics Company Gains $8M

Surgery in operating room

(Sasin Tipchai, Pixabay.

16 Mar. 2023. A start-up company developing liquid biopsies for diagnosing cancer by analyzing fluids drained from a patient after surgery is raising $8 million in seed funds. The two year-old biotechnology enterprise Droplet Biosciences Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts is spun-off from labs at Washington University in St. Louis and University of Pittsburgh.

Droplet Biosciences seeks to discover more insights and details about a patient’s cancer from analysis of lymphatic fluids, particularly fluids drained from a patient after tumor-removal surgery. The lymphatic system is a series of thin vessels and nodes that circulate lymph fluid throughout the body as part of the immune system, collecting waste products, bacteria, and damaged cells. Lymph nodes are also among the first parts of the body to which cancer spreads. Immediately after cancer surgery, says the company, lymphatic fluids drained from the body offer a rich source of data about the state of a patient’s cancer and its likelihood of recurrence.

Aadel Chaudhuri, professor of radiation oncology and biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis — one of Droplet Bio’s scientific founders — studies liquid biopsy techniques. In a paper published in April 2022, Chaudhuri and colleagues analyzed surgical drain fluids from 75 patients with thyroid and head and neck cancer, sequencing the fluids for biomarkers or molecular indicators for detecting residual cancer after surgery. The researchers found a high correlation between their genomic analysis of cell-free DNA in lymphatic fluids drained from the patient and further chances of cancer recurrence.

Provide a faster indication of cancer status

“As the most proximal biofluid to a recently resected tumor,” says Droplet Bio’s chief scientist Wendy Winckler in a company statement released through BusinessWire, “the lymph contained in surgical drain fluid offers critical information for assessing metastatic risk at the source of potential spread, before it can travel to other parts of the body. Because Droplet’s test takes place immediately after surgery, the results can aid clinicians in adjuvant treatment decisions, unlike blood-based liquid biopsies that can take weeks or even months to identify recurrence risk.”

Droplet Bio is designing diagnostic techniques for sequencing and analyzing lymph and other fluids from a patient after surgery, to provide clinicians with a faster indication of the patient’s cancer status, including likelihood of metastasizing and recurrence, than is now possible with blood-based liquid biopsies. Co-founder and CEO Theresa Tribble notes, “Droplet technology will significantly improve on blood-based monitoring diagnostics by aiding clinicians at the most consequential treatment decision point. Additionally, we see massive potential for the lymphatic data coming out of our research to generate new approaches to patient selection and treatment response.”

Droplet Biosciences is raising $8 million in seed funds from The Engine, an entrepreneurial community in Cambridge, Mass. spun-out initially from MIT. The Engine seeks to bridge the gap between scientific discovery and commercialization with start-up funding, but also a network of fellow company founders to advance ideas and share experiences.

In addition, The Engine backs new enterprises developing what it calls Tough Tech, discoveries that revolutionize a process or dramatically advance the state of the art in health care, energy, climate, and food systems. In Aug. 2019, Science & Enterprise reported on Cambridge Crops Inc., a start-up developing a new food preservation technology, raising $4 million in seed funds from The Engine.

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