Selventa has raised $5 million in equity financing from nine unnamed investors that it will use to develop and validate assays for autoimmune disorders in partnership with diagnostics and diagnostics tool companies, BioInform learned this week.
David de Graaf, Selventa's president and CEO, told BioInform that the company will use its computational platform to identify biomarkers for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. The company plans to work with partners to develop these biomarkers into assays to identify patients likely to respond to anti-TNF drugs — therapies that inhibit the activity of tumor necrosis factor, which promotes inflammatory response.
"We are branding this product as a therapeutic diagnostic," he said, explaining that its "not necessarily just the ability to tell whether a patient will respond to one drug class but ultimately to get to a product that will help physicians have a dashboard into the molecular mechanisms of the disease ... and based on that ... make the best treatment decision."
The company is currently holding talks with potential collaborators, de Graaf said, although he could not give specific names.
Specifically, Selventa wants to partner with "companies that would work in areas such as the ability to measure multiple analytes — whether those are RNA or protein or ... metabolites," he said.
He said Selventa plans to have a market-ready test within three to five years, although he could not provide details about the company's commercialization strategy.
Informatics for a New Market
Diagnostic development is a new market for Selventa, which has traditionally applied its "in silico reverse causal reasoning" platform in partnerships with pharmaceutical clients and other collaborators.
In preparation for its new venture, the 35-person company plans to increase its headcount to 42 in the coming year.
Selventa isn't walking away from its core clientele, however. De Graaf said the firm plans to announce a new pharma partnership in the next few weeks.
A portion of Selventa's new funds will go toward developing new capabilities for its computational platform that will improve the system's ability to "identify molecular footprints of specific mechanisms in individual patients and to assess the strength of that mechanism in a given patient" based on genomic, proteomic, transcriptomic, and metabolomic data, de Graaf said.
Selventa's assay development efforts will also benefit from recent upgrades to its Biological Expression Language, or BEL, which represents scientific findings as causal relationships that can be annotated with information about biological context, experimental methods, literature sources, and the curation process.
Selventa has been collaborating with Pfizer to develop BEL since 2003, and expanded the partnership earlier this year to include the creation of an open source version of the language (BI 4/1/2011).
Last month, the company announced a partnership with Linguamatics to use Linguamatics' I2E text-mining technology to automate the extraction of life science information from the literature. Selventa then converts this data into BEL and uses it to interpret large-scale experimental data (BI 11/4/11).
This week, de Graaf said that the recent improvements to BEL will provide "a level of validation of the basic concepts behind [Selventa's] discovery technology and the discovery platform." The platform also "allows us ... [to] exploit [our partners'] internal knowledge in generating biomarkers for patient stratification."
This way, Selventa will be able to produce a test that’s really "finely tuned" to its partners' internal information, he said.
Additionally, Selventa plans to announce a partnership with a database publishing firm that has agreed to publish several of its biological databases in the BEL format so that these resources can be "integrated with knowledge that has been gathered internally or has been licensed from companies like Selventa," de Graaf said.
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