Three companies that promise to personalize medicine

Here are some companies that have interesting services and products such as a PAP test for breast cancer and a liquid biopsy technique.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Here in Silicon Valley, the Computer History Museum is buzzing with a mix of scientists and industry people in town for the Personalized Medicine World Conference.

On the agenda: smarter healthcare.

On Wednesday, the speakers talked about the problems with cancer treatment and ways to improve it, the promise of genomics and the discovery of longevity genes and what this means for age-related diseases. Some speakers described how patients are hungry for good, medical information and how mobile phone applications and social networks can help with that.

(I even got a chance to finally meet Harvard geneticist George Church in person, who by-the-way, is a celebrity of sorts to this particular crowd. He's being honored for his work this year.)

At the end of the two day conference, three companies gave a brief presentation to four judges, hoping their elevator pitch would score the Most Promising Company Award:

1. Atossa Genetics: CEO Steven C. Quay said Atossa is developing a test that would be "the pap test" for breast cancer.

Quay said there's a one in eight lifetime cancer risk for breast cancer and it doesn't happen overnight. Breast cancer takes more than eight years to develop. Both cervical and breast cancer develop over about a decade, and the cervix undergoes similar pre-cancerous changes. The PAP test has lowered cervical cancer by 74 percent and the PAP test is most successful screening test in medical history. The company is launching this fall.

But the judges weren't that impressed. The average score was 6.5 out of 10.

2. Fluxion: CEO Jeff Jensen described Fluxion's microfluidics platform technology for a single-cell analysis, which can look for circulating tumor cells. Cancerous cells circulate through the blood system, but can be difficult to track down.

"If we could isolate those cells, we could use it as a liquid biopsy," Jensen said. Right now, the only way to analyze a tumor is to take an invasive biopsy of the tissue.

However, the challenge is that these cells are extremely rare. "It's a needle and a hay stack problem," Jensen said. The microfluidic tool box can be used as a single-cell ion channel screening platform. It can test individual cells, look at cell interactions and look at the functional response of the cells.

The judges liked the presentation and gave it an 8.0 out of 10.

3. Nodality: President and CEO David Parkinson said disease activity is more accurately reflected by signaling than by sequence.

"We've taken an academic technology and we've industrialized it," Parkinson said.

The company can keep track of a patient's disease state at a specific point in time. It can track rare cell populations, including stem cell populations and the type of cells described by Jensen. It's possible to use disease biology to increase drug efficiencies in drug development, he said.

And the judges gave this company a 8.25 out of 10.

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