Natera puts its prenatal know-how toward cancer diagnostics

After finding success using its technology to screen unborn babies for chromosomal problems, Natera is looking to see how well its diagnostic platform can detect and monitor cancer.

Natera's Panorama prenatal test works by analyzing cell-free DNA for abnormalities that can spell trouble down the line. Under a new a deal with New York's Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, the company plans to find out whether the technology can do the same for circulating tumor DNA, trace bits of genetic material released in the bloodstream.

The company will provide funding and access to its proprietary technology to the institute, which will contribute blood and tissue samples. Through their combined work, the partners hope to develop a system that can accurately analyze circulating tumor DNA, potentially decreasing the need for invasive, often-unreliable tissue biopsies.

"Our vision is to enable cancer detection across multiple tumor types that will have the same key features as our prenatal tests: early, accurate and noninvasive," Natera CEO Matthew Rabinowitz said in a statement.

Panorama, Natera's test for fetal abnormalities, decodes maternal DNA through a blood draw and then looks at thousands of single-nucleotide polymorphisms to determine which traits will be passed down. Those results then go into the company's proprietary algorithm, which can compute the probability of a variety of complications.

The company's potential cancer diagnostic would operate much the same way, subbing maternal DNA for tumor material, Natera said.

Since launching Panorama last year, Natera has signed distribution deals with some of the world's largest labs, including Quest Diagnostics ($DGX), Bio-Reference Laboratories and ARUP Laboratories. In May 2013, Natera hauled in $54.6 million in venture cash, winning the support of big names like OrbiMed Advisors, Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

- read the announcement

Special Report: FierceMedicalDevices' 2013 Fierce 15 - Natera

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