What lies beneath? Turns out a whole lot.
ImaginAb in Inglewood is using new imaging technology to peer through the human body to diagnose cancerous tumors without performing biopsies.
Now, with a major investment to buoy its efforts, the UCLA spinout will begin the process of Federal Drug Administration clinical trials that could help change the future of cancer treatment.
On March 27, the 15-person company announced a $12.5 million Series A round, led by Novartis Venture Funds in Cambridge, Mass.
ImaginAb’s technology, which is comparable to magnetic resonance imaging, will allow doctors to diagnose patients without making them go under the knife. As a result, one of the investors said that the technology has the potential for widespread use.
“This could literally transform how doctors take care of patients,” said Dr. Campbell Murray, managing director of Novartis.
Murray said he’s confident ImaginAb can help big pharma companies and established imaging companies in their diagnostics processes. The technology could diagnose prostate, ovarian and pancreatic cancer.
ImaginAb was founded in 2007 by UCLA faculty members Drs. Robert Reiter and Anna Wu, and former professor Dr. Christian Behrenbruch.
As the company’s doctors prepare for FDA clinical trials, they plan on using the funding for testing on terminally ill patients.
“We’ll be applying shortly to the FDA to do human studies,” Behrenbruch said. “We’re hoping that around the summertime that we’ll be able to commence a first study in patients with metastatic prostate and pancreatic cancer.”
The entire process, from testing to sales, could take five years.
By providing clearer pictures of tumors, ImaginAb’s imaging technologies may enable a treatment better tailored to a specific patient. Traditionally, this was achieved by taking a tissue specimen from a needle biopsy; but that may only tell a partial story of what’s going on inside patients’ bodies.
Some organs, such as the pancreas and lungs, are complex to biopsy. So ImaginAb’s technology could improve diagnosis in addition to being less painful for patients.
“A needle might not sample a tumor correctly and then a physician thinks that the patient has a less serious form of disease, and maybe even gets the wrong drug,” Behrenbruch said.
The company, formed at UCLA as part of a research program, has a consultancy agreement with the university. But since the school is a public institution, ImaginAb had to move off campus, and wasn’t allowed to stay or employ university staff.
ImaginAb also has a relationship with Duarte-based City of Hope, which licensed several key patents to the company and serves as a source for some of its core biotechnology. In 2011, the National Cancer Institute awarded ImaginAb a $2.3 million grant to develop imaging agents in collaboration with City of Hope. In addition, the company has more than a dozen agreements with biopharmaceutical companies to develop imaging agents.
“We think what we are doing is going to change the industry,” Behrenbruch said.
The FDA approval will determine ImaginAb’s future.
“That’s the company’s focus for the next 12 months, to see whether our molecular imaging technology will make a difference to patients,” he said. “The proof is in improving lives.”
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