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Funds Help Biotech Track ‘Moving Target’

A rapidly growing diagnostics company in San Diego has raised $30 million in Series C financing to help commercialize its new technology for cancer research, while adding a high-profile life science veteran to its board.

Epic Sciences Inc. received the preferred stock financing from three repeat investors — Domain Associates, Roche Venture Fund and Pfizer Venture Investments, from which Epic received $13 million in a previous round in 2012 — and two new investors, Arcus Ventures and RusnanoMedInvest.

The funds will be used primarily to get FDA clearance for multiple cancer diagnostic clinical studies and to build out the company’s lab infrastructure, said President and CEO Murali Prahalad,

former vice president of corporate strategy at Life Technologies Corp., which was bought this year by Thermo Fisher Scientific.

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Epic was founded in 2008 to commercialize technology developed by cell biologist Peter Kuhn at The Scripps Research Institute for detecting and analyzing circulating tumor cells in cancer. Until recently, the gold standard in cancer diagnostics involved a tissue biopsy in which cells are removed from a patient with a needle or scalpel and sent to a pathologist to analyze. When parts — or all — of a tumor are removed from a patient, they are tested for a variety of biomarkers to determine which drugs would be useful in treatment. But the test is usually performed when the patient is first diagnosed with cancer and cannot be used repeatedly.

“The problem with this process is that cancer is a very evolving and adaptive disease,” Prahalad said. “So if you think about a tissue biopsy it’s kind of like taking a still snapshot of a moving target when what you really need is a movie.”

While tissue biopsies may result in stale information, Epic’s approach to cell analysis offers ongoing and relevant information — trending toward the personalization of medicine to ensure each patient gets the drug from which they’ll benefit most. Epic’s less invasive blood test can help physicians monitor the condition and severity of a patient’s cancer by analyzing the details of his or her circulating tumor cells.

Growing Relationships, Revenue

Epic has aggressively developed relationships with academic scientists and pharmaceutical companies over the last few years. The company currently maintains 30 collaborations, up from only six last year.

“Our growth has been very aggressive,” Prahalad said. “There’s been a huge acceptance in the technology we have and the data we can generate.”

Six pharmaceutical companies have publicly presented with data generated by Epic, including Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and Celgene Corp. (NASDAQ: CELG). Nearly 40 clinical trials using Epic’s tests are underway, and its technology is currently analyzing types of cancer in thousands of patients.

Over the past year Epic’s workforce has doubled from 30 employees to 60. The company has moved to a 44,000-square-foot facility in University Towne Center that will support the company’s growth. Prahalad declined to disclose revenues, although he said Epic has experienced multiple years of doubled revenue.

Epic recently appointed Greg Lucier, the former chairman and CEO of Carlsbad-based Life Technologies before it was acquired, as a new director and board chairman. Lucier managed the $15.4 billion sale of Life Technologies to Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE: TMO) earlier this year, and he is expected to help guide Epic’s strategy in commercialization. Prahalad and Lucier were former colleagues at Life Technologies, making Lucier a solid match with Epic’s board.

“Lucier was a natural for me to turn to considering his experience in building great companies and great teams in terms of his immense network in the biotechnology space,” Prahalad said. “I expect him to bring a level of discipline and guidance going forward.”

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