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Perthera Using $8.7M Funding Round to Expand Reach of Cancer Analysis Service


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Fresh off an $8.7 million Series A funding round, personalized medicine firm Perthera is adding staff and inking new collaborators as it aims to expand the reach of its Precision Cancer Analysis (PCA) service.

Launched in 2013 by George Mason University researcher Emanuel Petricoin and venture capitalist Dendy Young, McLean, Virginia-based Perthera provides molecular profiling of cancer patients to help physicians guide their treatments. 

The company does not perform the assays itself, but rather helps physicians access genomic, proteomic, and phosphoproteomics profiling services from outside companies, serving as an intermediary handling the many steps involved in obtaining and sending out patient tumor samples to molecular profiling firms and returning assay results.

Perthera aims to provide cancer patients in community hospital settings the sort of molecular profiling and expert interpretation typically available at major cancer centers and plans to use funds from the recently completed round to establish a sales force to better access those markets, Andrew Mignatti, the company's president and CEO, told GenomeWeb.

"We want to build a sales organization that can really go into the community and get our services into the community setting," he said. To date, he noted, the company has worked with more than 500 hospitals and more than 550 oncologists, with roughly 40 percent of its patients coming from the community setting.

Perthera's PCA service combines genomic data from Foundation Medicine, proteomic data from Caris Life Sciences, and phosphoproteomics data from Theranostics Health (of which Petricoin is also a co-founder). The company arranges for patient biopsies, which are then handled by a partner CLIA lab and sent to these three companies for molecular testing. Perthera combines the molecular results with other patient information, all of which is reviewed and interpreted by a virtual tumor board, which then delivers treatment recommendations to the patients' oncologists.

Perthera then collects data on the treatments the patients received and their outcomes, which it is compiling in a proprietary database.

"Think about it as one continuous clinical trial," Petricoin told GenomeWeb, noting that the company collects data on every step of the process from the upfront patient information and molecular profiles, to how this data affects physician treatment decisions, to the outcomes of those treatment regimes.

"We are able to assess rigorously which markers were used by the physician to make a treatment decision, what treatments did they give, and then how the patients did," Petricoin said.

The bulk of Perthera's work thus far has been in pancreatic cancer, the result of an ongoing collaboration between the company and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PCAN), through which it plans to analyze around 3,000 patients. To date, the company has run the PCA on around 400 patients and is on pace to analyze between 600 and 700 per year. It is currently preparing for publication of a paper detailing the results from the first 315 pancreatic patients to undergo the PCA, Mignatti said.

So far, the PCA leads to a change in physician treatment decisions in around 20 percent of patients, Mignatti said, though Petricoin suggested that this number would likely rise as physicians who have ordered analyses in anticipation of later using them begin to do so.

He said that this circumstance was in part attributable to the fact that Perthera's efforts to date have been concentrated in pancreatic cancer. Because that cancer is typically a fast moving one, many physicians have ordered the PCA before their patients progressed off standard therapies, enabling them to have the report ready as soon as the patients do, Petricoin said.

A staunch proponent of proteomics as a valuable clinical tool, Petricoin said that Perthera's data supported his view on the importance of including protein-level information.

The PCA data "certainly all points to this narrative that is emerging where with a genomics-only approach you are constrained by not knowing what the molecular drivers really are," he said. "We have many patients where their molecular profile shows a dozen different actionable genomic 'drivers', [but] which one do you go after? So, when you fill in proteomic information on top of that you can start to rank [those genomic features]."

Additionally, he said, there are "patients where all we got from a genomics report is that the pancreatic cancer patient is KRAS-mutated, and that was it. So, no information on what to do. And the proteomic data filled that in."

Conversely, Petricoin said, the company has seen situations where were clinicians took a look only at the proteomics data, thereby missing key genomic drivers.

As important as the raw data is the interpretation provided by the PCA service's virtual tumor board, Mignatti said. In fact, he noted, "we find there are times that we are making recommendations of drugs or clinical trials that aren't molecularly indicated but are the best for that individual patient."

"There are a lot of genomic and proteomic pieces to this that help in making those recommendations, but really the interpretation from acting clinicians who see patients in practice every day becomes the big differentiator," he said.

The PCA lists for $5,800, though the company does not turn away any patients due to inability to pay, Mignatti said. Currently, it works with advocacy groups like PCAN as well as hospitals and pharma firms to cover the costs of the test. Ultimately, Perthera hopes to collect enough data on the service to obtain coverage from Medicare and private payors.

The company is also working to establish collaborations with pharmaceutical firms where it might use its database to, for instance, recruit patients for clinical trials and identify patient populations where particular drugs could be effective, Mignatti said.

He added that while pancreatic cancer has been Perthera's main focus, the company has run the PCA on a number of other cancer types and plans this summer to announce three new partnerships with advocacy groups for other cancers similar to its collaboration with PCAN.

The company currently has 18 employees and plans to add another six starting next week, including a medical director, and sales and marketing and bioinformatics staff, Mignatti said.