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Asuragen Raises $18.5M in Financing to Fund Dx Development, Commercialization

Asuragen said this week that it has raised $18.5 million in a Series B round of venture-capital financing that will primarily support its miRNA-based clinical diagnostic business.
The funding augments $49 million that the company raised in a Series A round last year. The Series B round was led by PTV Sciences, a new investor, as well as previous investors Telegraph Hill Partners and Growth Capital Partners.
The firm is the successor to the diagnostics and services business of Ambion, which sold its RNA business to Applied Biosystems last year. In August Asuragen launched an array-based miRNA expression-profiling service called DiscovArray and has been investing in the services side of its business.
Asuragen President Rollie Carlson said the latest round will primarily flow into its clinical diagnostics business, which includes both internal programs and partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
“It is going to be parsed into three areas,” Carlson told BioArray News this week, including “establishing our commercial capabilities” for diagnostics and services and,paying for biomarker discovery and clinical validation.
Additionally, some of the funding will go towards a “small but exciting” in-house therapeutics program.
Carlson said that Asuragen has ongoing programs in the diagnostics field related to miRNA. He said that the firm has previously presented results showing how it can distinguish patients with pancreatic cancer from normal samples. A paper describing this work appeared in the June 28 issue of Oncogene, for example. Carlson added that in general the firm has an interest in cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
“A lot of proceeds [will be used] for clinical validation of our miRNA candidates,” he said. “We have got collaborations with a number of institutions and we have partnerships with major external medical and academic centers and with some companies.” He declined to name Asuragen’s partners.
The company’s increased attention on developing miRNA signatures for clinical diagnostic applications comes amid similar efforts from other miRNA-oriented firms. Last month, for example, Denmark’s Exiqon signed a deal to acquire Oncotech, a West Coast testing firm, for $45 million in stock in order to accelerate the deployment of its miRNA-based tests in North America (see BAN 11/27/2007).

“A lot of proceeds use is going to be for clinical validation of our miRNA candidates.”

Following the announcement, Exiqon CEO Lars Kongsbak told BioArray News that the firm plans to launch tests sometime next year. Like Asuragen, Exiqon’s interest lies in oncology.
According to Kongsbak, Exiqon has yet to decide what kind of technology platform it will use to power its tests. “Right now the debate is whether people should go for arrays or qPCR, and it is too early to choose which platform we are going to use in diagnostic,” Kongsbak wrote in an e-mail to BioArray News at the time. “We will have to return to that later.”
But for Asuragen, it is “not too early” to expect that it will use arrays for its diagnostics, Carlson said. “In some cases we see compelling signatures with multiple genes or RNAs and the combination might have the clinical utility,” he said.
“That may need multiplexing, not unlike [what] Agendia is doing with its MammaPrint” test for breast cancer recurrence, he added.
Asuragen has a CLIA-approved lab that enables it to work with pharmaceutical partners on clinical samples and “also as a potential way for early clinical signatures to be available to the marketplace,” Carlson said.
Carlson declined to discuss when Asuragen’s first tests could reach the market.

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