Cambridge, UK-based San Genetics, a startup with about 25 employees is on a mission to increase participation in clinical trials. They just raised $3.4 million in seed funding to help develop a free at-home DNA testing kit for up to 3,000 people impacted by the condition known as “long COVID” as well as support the ongoing development of its technology platform. The investment round was led by Episode 1 Ventures along with Seedcamp, Cambridge Enterprise, January Ventures and a number of Europe and American angel investors. The group, which was founded sometime in 2017, first raised a “pre-seed” funding in 2018 worth about $680,000. The group’s founders all met while attending Cambridge University. Charlotte Guzzo, Patrick Short and William Jones all were postgrads studying genomics when they decided to make the leap into the world of entrepreneurialism. Their offering seeks to overcome two profound trends, including 1) increasing patient/participant study recruitment challenges in at least Western research, and 2) ongoing revolution of precision or personalized medicine. In a bid to capitalize on these trends, offering transformational value, they seek to build what is known as a “private-by-design” research platform supporting patient participation in biomedical research. Supporting participation from the comfort of a patient’s home, they have tailored their approach for select therapeutic areas to start including ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, ankylosing spondylitis and NAFLD. Their team will open up a Parkinson’s disease program sometime in 2021.
Why was this venture formed?
To solve the growing challenge of a lack of sufficient numbers of patients and participants for biomedical research, including clinical trials.
Why does the industry have such difficulty in finding participants for studies?
A number of factors from ever increasingly complex study protocols to ever more precise biotech-based therapies can narrow the range of study of patient targets. In places like America, which traditionally run the most studies there are far more studies than there are patients—put another way, generally in the West, the trend heads toward too many studies chasing too few patients. This is one reason why China becomes a more attractive place for some biotech companies to conduct research.
Patrick Short, the company’s CEO, rightfully shared with TechCrunch that “For participants in medical research, the process is not user friendly” continuing for O’Hear, “There is usually little to no benefit for participants beyond altruism, taking part in difficult and time-consuming and people are also concerned about the privacy of their sensitive genetic and medical information.”
Mr. Short shared with the TechCrunch writer that this leaves research sponsors, whether academic or industry, in a tough spot: it’s challenging to find and retain research participants and the associated costs are legendary—and have been this way for a long time.
This challenge is magnified when factoring in the precision medicine revolution where targeted treatments necessarily require targeted participation. As most health systems don’t typically offer genetic tests as a standard of care, medical records, for example, cannot be just easily mined to find specific patients.
How will San Genetics try to overcome these challenges?
They form a part of the patient-centric movement in research. That is it is based on the premise that those sponsors that make life easier for patients, that support and facilitate studies that connect to their specific needs and their particular health issues of these patients, all things being equal, will recruit and enroll more patients/participants than those that do not take on this patient-centered focus.
But more importantly and specifically, the venture’s genetic testing and tech platform facilitate the more efficient and effective matching of research study to research participants. More specifically, their platform purportedly aids the sponsor’s quest for the right patient while it’s at-home assay and associated instructions ensures greater participation in any study.
How do they monetize this offering?
TechCrunch reports that the company already generates revenues by selling data to biotech and pharma sponsors. That is biotech or pharmaceutical companies pay them fees to identify the right patient for the right study.
The CEO told TechCrunch that their fees include a “…set-up fee for each referral we make of an interested and eligible participant to their research study.”
Call to Action: Follow the link to check out the informative TechCrunch article.