J&J hosts developer of novel skin cancer diagnostic at its new life science incubator in Silicon Valley

Mindera, the developer of a microneedle-based molecular diagnostic system for skin cancer, was among the first 10 resident companies at Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) just-opened JLABS life science incubator in San Francisco. That means that the life science bigwig believes Mindera's technology is novel and of interest to one of the many companies under its umbrella.

Johnson & Johnson officially opened its San Francisco JLABS incubator this month, but Mindera has been operating at the facility since January.

Mindera CEO Philippe Nore told FierceDiagnostics that the diagnostic being developed will be faster, more accurate and less invasive than conventional skin cancer biopsies. He said studies have shown that pathologists disagree on the diagnosis of skin cancer 30% of the time, and he wants to replace the visualization-based methodology of prognostication with something more precise.

The ultimate goal is earlier diagnosis of skin cancer, resulting in lives saved and cost savings to the healthcare system, the CEO said. He plans to conduct noninvasive skin biopsies using microneedles with attached DNA probes for targeted biomarker extraction. 

The CEO wouldn't disclose too many details about the microneedle but said, "The challenges are really on the molecular side. … If you think about how to diagnose skin cancer, you need to have a panel of biomarkers that will enable you to distinguish between healthy skin and a cancerous lesion. The way we proceeded is that we attached specific probes to the microneedles. So if you want to extract gene A, B, C and D, we attach corresponding probes on the microneedles to extract very specific genes."

The genes' messenger RNA (mRNA) is analyzed to make gene expression profiles that can used for both research and diagnostic applications in skin diseases like skin cancer, Nore said.

"We also want to decentralize the testing by having the gene expression analysis done in the physician's office, so instead of waiting two weeks for your results you will get it during the same visit," he said.

Mindera will benefit from access to the incubator's laboratory facilities and equipment such as thermo cyclers for analyzing DNA by conducting polymerase chain reactions. In addition, membership gives the company a good ecosystem to meet potential investors, Nore said.

Unlike other incubators, there is a formal membership program for JLABS companies. "It's truly a tenant-to-landlord relationship, so to speak," the CEO said, adding that his company does not have any sort of licensing or other agreement with Johnson & Johnson.  

FDA approval of a Mindera skin cancer diagnostic is at least three to 5 years away, according to the CEO's projections. He aims to first release research applications of the company's technology.

Founded in 2013, Mindera has a staff of four full-time scientists and a scientific advisory board, including former Illumina ($ILMN) chief scientific officer Dr. David Barker.

Others are working on using molecular analysis of skin biopsies for diagnostic applications. A team of researchers in Mexico recently found that a skin sample taken from behind the ear of patients with Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease had levels of the tau protein 7 times higher than those without the condition.

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