April 22, 2024

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GeneCentric Therapeutics raises $7.5M after Labcorp deal

The Old Well on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

The Old Well on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

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GeneCentric Therapeutics, a cancer testing company founded on UNC-Chapel Hill technology, has raised $7.5 million from investors and sealed a significant partnership with Labcorp, one of the largest diagnostics companies in the U.S.

The investment comes as GeneCentric continues to push its RNA-based cancer tests, which are being co-developed with Labcorp, toward clinical trials.

Burlington-based Labcorp is one of GeneCentric’s leading investors, along with Durham-based Hatteras Venture Partners, IAG Capital Partners and Alexandria Venture Investments.

GeneCentric’s tests are based on research by Dr. Charles Perou, of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and differ from most common cancer tests that use DNA material.

Michael Milburn, GeneCentric’s CEO, said his company believes using RNA gene signatures will provide more precise diagnostics and help physicians craft better responses to cancers. It could also help therapeutics companies fine tune new treatments for different types of cancers.

Labcorp does “significant work with pharmaceutical companies,” Milburn said in an interview. “We hope to benefit both from their commercial reach, as well as their pharmaceutical reach, because ultimately these RNA diagnostics that we’re developing are going … to guide current therapies as well as new therapies.”

Precision medicine has mostly relied on studying the DNA mutations inside of cancer tumors, Milburn said. However, you can collect RNA in the same biopsies.

In that way, “RNA-based diagnostics could be used complementary to DNA testing that’s done today,” Milburn said.

Michael Milburn PhD_CEO GeneCentric Therapeutics.JPG
Michael Milburn, CEO of GeneCentric Therapeutics. Courtesy of GeneCentric

Using RNA diagnostics in research

The approach has already shown some promise. One 2020 study from the National Cancer Institute found that analyzing RNA levels, in addition to DNA mutation in tumors, could improve outcomes when it comes to analyzing responses to treatment.

But the study, which has not been peer reviewed, acknowledges that RNA tests in tumors still need to be studied further.

“These are still newer tests,” said Milburn, who previously worked at Metabolon and GlaxoSmithKline. “We have to go through the proper regulatory clinical studies to demonstrate how well they perform.”

Milburn said he hopes the company could enroll some of its first tests into clinical trials in the next two years. The company says it is currently studying its technology on tumors in lungs, kidneys, bladders, livers and several other organs.

GeneCentric is based in Research Triangle Park and has about a dozen employees, Milburn said. He said the partnership with Labcorp will allow the company to remain lean going forward, as it can use Labcorp’s laboratories rather than having to invest in its own.

This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.

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