Genetic mutations can cause proliferation of abnormal cells that develop into tumor cells commonly known as cancer. These tumors can now be easily identified and monitored through sensitive blood tests that can identify mutant DNA. We have discussed earlier that companies like Sysmex Inostics and Apocell now offer special services in the detection of mutant DNA released from tumors into the bloodstream via circulating tumor cells (CTCs). Another promising technology for cancer blood testing is being offered by RainDance Technologies.
RainDance Technologies makes complex genetics simple with its ultra-sensitive genomic tools that utilize blood tests instead of invasive biopsies to provide a reliable, accurate, and cost-effective method for detecting and monitoring cancer. Based in Massachusetts, Raindance was founded in 2004 and has taken in $160 million in combined equity and debt financing from firms such as Mohr Davidow Ventures, Quaker BioVentures, Alloy Ventures, and Northgate Capital. Raindance’s most recent funding milestone was the raising of $16.5 million from new investors GE Ventures and Northgate Capital to make its cancer blood testing technology commercially available. The company currently employs around 100 people, a number that is growing at a rate of 30 to 40 percent per year.
The Raindance Digital PCR Solution
Just like Sysmex Inostics, Raindance uses digital polymerase chain reaction (dPCR) methods to capture from a patient’s blood the few circulating tumor cells (CTCs) that have broken away from even small tumors. Raindance’s product offering is called the “RainDrop System“:
Bill Ericson, a General Partner at Mohr Davidow and Board Member of Raindance had the following to say about PCR testing in a Fortune article last year:
Why should the average Jane or Joe care about PCR? In 1983 it changed the rules in molecular biology by creating a technique used to amplify or reproduce the number of copies of a specific region of DNA. Why is this important? Because you need enough DNA to adequately test and create new applications for disease discovery and monitoring.
The RainDrop System tests a patient’s blood sample for cancer-causing mutations using microscopic droplets of liquid that are around 8 picoliters in volume (roughly around one-millionth of a teaspoon). The droplets are invisible to the naked eye, yet the company has invented a method to move them around using chips which are based on SONY’s Blu-ray disc technology. Each microdroplet is functionally equivalent to a test tube and can contain a single cell, reaction, or molecule. Inside these microdroplets are the components needed to duplicate or amplify the patient’s DNA inside them.
Raindrop System Advantages
Because of the small size of the microdroplets, very small amounts of reagents are needed, which helps make the analytical process much cheaper than other available methods. This technology also allows for sequencing of DNA from preserved samples stored for cancer research, which has been a challenge, since chemical preservatives usually break down DNA. Furthermore, other advantages of the RainDrop System include its high sensitivity (a 500 – 10,000X improvement over existing PCR methods) and its multiplexing capability (can conduct up to ten tests on the same sample).
Raindance is not the only player in this space as there are other similar product offerings available including the QuantStudio 3D dPCR system offered by Live Sciences which was recently acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE:TMO). According to an Xconomy article last month on Raindance, the Company may be angling for an IPO. With two systems on the market, RainDance eclipsed a $20 million run rate in 2013 though it isn’t cash flow positive as of yet, and doesn’t expect to be for “the next couple of years”. The company may well turn to the public markets in 2014 to increase its visibility and raise much needed capital for growth.