Roche levels trade secrets lawsuit against Stanford University and its cancer detection spinout Foresight Diagnostics

Roche has filed a lawsuit against Stanford University and its spinout Foresight Diagnostics, saying the young cancer test developer was built upon trade secrets it acquired for detecting tumor DNA in the bloodstream.

The suit stems from a nearly decade-old deal that Roche inked with some of Foresight’s founders—Stanford professors Maximilian Diehn and Ash Alizadeh, who specialize in oncology, hematology and liquid biopsy. Diehn and Alizadeh previously helped establish Capp Medical, which Roche bought up in 2015 to gain access to its genomic cancer detection platform, dubbed CAPP-Seq. 

According to Roche’s molecular diagnostics divisions, Capp’s technology was used to help develop the drugmaker’s Avenio DNA analysis kits, including assays for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and recurrence monitoring. Though the financial details were not disclosed at the time, Roche said in its complaint that it paid out tens of millions of dollars for the company.

And through the deal, Diehn and Alizadeh signed on as consultants for Roche into mid-2021, while a third Stanford professor, David Kurtz, also contributed as a contractor.

In its lawsuit, filed in Northern California federal court, Roche claimed that time overlapped with the trio’s work as they “secretly co-founded” Foresight in 2020—and that the startup used CAPP-Seq to develop an expanded approach to capturing and analyzing circulating tumor DNA. 

The resulting tech, called PhasED-Seq, was patented by Stanford before being licensed to Foresight, which so far has raised about $70 million in venture capital funding.

In a public statement, Foresight described the suit as “meritless,” saying that Stanford owns the patents under dispute, and that they were developed using Stanford time and resources. 

“[Roche Molecular Systems] acquired prior, different technology in 2015 known as CAPP-Seq,” the company said. “We believe that, unfortunately, Roche failed to achieve the full potential of that acquisition. Now, recognizing the strength of Foresight’s new and independently developed technology, Roche has brought litigation as a negotiating tactic to try and force a result to which it is not entitled.”

Earlier this year at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Foresight presented a poster showing the ability of its Clarity platform to detect minimal residual disease among patients who had surgery to remove early stage non-small cell lung cancer, saying it can capture bloodstream tumor DNA at less than 1 part per million. The company has also studied its approach in blood cancers such as B-cell malignancies.

In April 2023, Foresight collected $58.75 million through a series B round, led by Foresite Capital and backed by Civilization Ventures, Bluebird Ventures, Pear Ventures, Agent Capital, Stanford University and The University of Colorado Healthcare Innovation Fund.