Triangle Precision Med Cancer Firm GeneCentric Acquires Nearby Select ImmunoGenomics

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A couple of Research Triangle area precision medicine start-ups have decided that two technology platforms are better than one. They’re joining forces to find new ways to fight cancer.

Research Triangle Park-based GeneCentric Therapeutics, Inc. announced that it has acquired Chapel Hill’s Select ImmunoGenomics, LLC. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Michael Milburn, Ph.D.
Michael Milburn, Ph.D.
-- GeneCentric photos

It’s a match that will combine informatics with immuno-therapeutics (using the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer). GeneCentric uses its proprietary genomics technology to define cancer subtypes and identify populations that respond best to drug therapies. Select ImmunoGenomics is a data analysis and biomarker firm that supports the development of immuno-oncology drugs. 

Myla Lai-Goldman, M.D
Myla Lai-Goldman, M.D

The combined company will have a comprehensive set of immunogenomics (study of the immune system within cancer tumors) and RNA-based solutions at its disposal, which will speed up drug development, according to Michael Milburn, Ph.D., CEO and president of GeneCentric. And that means finding the right oncology drugs for the right patients and improving response rates and patient outcomes. 

“At GeneCentric we have a deep cancer cell expertise, and Select ImmunoGenomics has a deep understanding of the immune cell environment,” Milburn explained. “It’s like being able to look at everything that’s going on within the tumor. All that information comes from RNA data, so our technologies complement each other very well. The combination will create a wealth of opportunities for the company going forward.”

Ben Vincent
Ben Vincent, M.D.

He said the goal is to develop diagnostics tests and more personalized drugs for cancer patients.

Both companies are spinouts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

GeneCentric was founded in 2011 by Myla Lai-Goldman, M.D., a pathologist, and two UNC researchers, Charles Perou, Ph.D., and Neil Hayes, M.D., MPH. Perou is May Goldman Shaw Distinguished professor of Molecular Oncology. Hayes previously served as co-leader of UNC’s Lineberger Clinical Research Program, professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Cancer Surgery, and director of clinical bioinformatics at UNC. 

Select ImmunoGenomics was formed in 2016 by two other UNC researchers, Benjamin Vincent, M.D., an expert in computational immuno-genomics, and Joel Parker, Ph.D., a genomics data expert.

Lai-Goldman is GeneCentric’s executive chair. Both Vincent and Shaw will serve as advisors to the combined company. 

Joel Parker
Joel Parker, Ph.D.

Lai-Goldman noted that integrating the two companies’ technologies will enable GeneCentric to “capture the complexity of tumor biology” to accelerate drug development programs. “There is growing recognition that many factors beyond gene mutations contribute to drug response, including gene expression, activation, and signaling pathways as well as adaptive and innate immune status,” she said.

Vincent said GeneCentric’s strengths in bioinformatics and RNA-based informatics are a natural fit with his company’s focus on immuno-therapeutics. 

“While immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer care, a majority of patients still do not benefit,” he noted. “A huge challenge in the field is identifying which drugs will help our patients. Our computational genomics and systems biology approaches converge to address this challenge, as well as to apply genomics to develop more effective cancer therapies.”

Bryant Haskins, NCBiotech Writer
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 12:19