When it comes to refining current genetic sequencing practices and technologies, there’s no need to completely reinvent the wheel. Take it from Cambridge Epigenetix, which is designing tech that integrates into existing sequencing platforms, expanding their DNA analysis capabilities without forcing researchers to install an entirely new system in their labs.
This business model has drawn plenty of support. Cambridge Epigenetix recently closed its series D funding round with a total of $88 million, bringing its lifetime fundraising total to nearly $150 million.
Temasek led the financing. Other backers in the round included new investor Third Point and a group of returning backers that included GV, the venture arm of Google's parent company Alphabet, as well as New Science Ventures, Sequoia and Ahren Innovation Capital, which previously led the company’s $30 million series C in 2018.
With the additional funds, the University of Cambridge spinout will accelerate the commercialization of its sequencing platform. It’ll also ramp up manufacturing of the first product built on the platform, which the company said is expected to be commercially available by early next year.
Cambridge Epigenetix’s core SingleShot platform offers both genetic and epigenetic analysis of DNA samples. It reads five letters in each sequencing run: the four genetic bases—adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine, or A, T, C and G—as well as one of two epigenetic markers, methylcytosine or hydroxymethylcytosine.
While the four DNA nucleotides indicate the inheritable traits embedded into an individual’s primary DNA sequence, the epigenetic markers shed light on genetic modifications that occur due to lifestyle, nutrition and environmental factors.
In total, Cambridge Epigenetix’s technology is aiming to give researchers a more comprehensive view of the genetic changes that contribute to cancer and other diseases, allowing for earlier diagnosis. After its software and lab kits begin their commercial launch in early 2022, the company is planning to continue rolling out new platform products, including a kit that would analyze six letters in a single sequencing run.
“Our sequencing technology works with all sequencers and enhances their accuracy, as opposed to replacing or competing with them,” said Shankar Balasubramanian, founder of Cambridge Epigenetix. “Further, our technology has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of genome sequencing, as the low sample requirement and streamlined workflow facilitate its cost-effectiveness and ease of use without sacrificing accuracy.”
Cambridge Epigenetix isn’t alone in looking to epigenetics to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment. A handful of biopharmaceutical companies, including Omega Therapeutics, have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into the development of drugs that are designed to tweak gene expressions affected by epigenomic modifications.
On the diagnostic side, Guardant Health in early 2019 unveiled its Lunar liquid biopsy, a research test that detects both genomic alterations and epigenomic signatures in a single blood draw to detect signs of cancer in its earliest stages.