NuProbe bags cash to enable early detection of cancer

NuProbe has raised $11 million to develop blood tests capable of detecting cancer and infectious diseases early. The Sino-American startup thinks it can detect cell-free DNA in blood plasma and thereby enable screening for early-stage disease.  

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based NuProbe is using a DNA toehold probe system “based on the fundamental engineering principle of molecular competition” to enable such early detection. The system builds on the research of its founders, which published papers in 2012 and 2015 about how to dial up mutation detection while enabling multiplexing.

The papers describe ways to rationally design nucleic acid probes and control their specificity and sensitivity on the fly. Optimization is performed without going the iterative design process typical of probe improvement, and in a way that supports the independent control of individual probe yields on multiplexed platforms. 

NuProbe has convinced some notable investors of the potential of the technology.

“The sensitivity and broad applicability of NuProbe’s technology holds unique potential in molecular diagnostics,” Neil Shen, founding and managing partner of Sequoia Capital China, said in a statement.

Sequoia co-led the round with Serica Partners. WuXi AppTec Corporate Ventures also participated. The syndicate of Chinese investors reflects the geographic footprint of NuProbe, which is based on science developed Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Rice University but has since moved its center of gravity eastward.

NuProbe has offices in Cambridge and China, both of which will take on additional staff as a result of the financing. Some key work, notably a preliminary clinical trial, are taking place in China.