Biomarker-RU, a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation biomedicine technologies cluster, has attracted $3.5 million of venture capital to further develop its early diagnostics test for breast cancer – ARNA Breast.
ARNA-Breast utilizes a method for detecting nucleic acids in blood plasma and is more accurate than tests produced by market competitors. It is the first of a line of Biomarker-RU products to expand onto world markets and the funding will be directed into further clinical research in Russia, the European Union and the United States.
The project team. A.A. Melnikov (front left), his son Egor Melnikov (behind, fourth from left), Charles Cantor (front right). Photo: ARNA.
The company founder and CEO, Egor Melnikov, said in a statement to Sk.ru, “We are grateful to the investors for their faith in the project and talks on the deal went on for a long time. Pre-seed, seed, and pre-A funding was given more readily than for series-A funding. Through trial and error, we gained proof of a scientific concept and underwent due diligence and created a team made up of the smartest and most talented people with their own professional vision. In many ways that determined the result. Attracting investment will allow us to conduct a number of evidence-based research and will increase the company’s capitalization by dozens or even hundreds of times. This will allow us to create a test in the near future that will be accessible to patients across the world.”
With an accuracy of 90%, the ARNA Breast test couldn’t have come at a better time given that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women according to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) with 1 in 8 developing the disease; in 2018 alone there were 2 million new cases recorded worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, it is the second leading cause of cancer death in women and the chances of death from the disease are at 2.6%. In recent years there has been a fall in the death rate by about 1.3% annually, which has been attributed to early detection as well as better treatments. This shows the importance of early diagnosis, treatment notwithstanding, and that is just what the ARNA Breast test is designed for. Such high-quality tests do not exist on the world market, although the demand for them is high, and all it requires from the patient is a blood sample.
Charles Cantor, a prominent American molecular geneticist, the director of the Center of Advanced Biotechnology at Boston University, a visiting professor at leading universities both in Russia and the United States as well as a member of Biomarker-RU’s scientific advisory board stated, “Biomarker-Ru has a unique approach to the development and implementation of tests based on liquid biopsy for cancer detection and for tracking the disease’s response to therapy. This liquid biopsy is cheap and non-invasive, so it is very likely that it will be used widely in diagnostic testing. The competition in this field is extremely high, but since Biomarker-RU offers a fundamentally new approach, the company has every chance of becoming the owner of a serious piece of intellectual property and a significant share of the market.”
Biomarker-RU was founded in 2013 and gained Skolkovo resident status in September of that same year. Egor Melnikov does not have a background in medicine, but he is an economist and manager by education, and an “entrepreneur by experience and spirit.” His parents, however, were biologists and his father worked for 15 years in the United States at R&D institutes in Chicago, Northwestern University, Rush University as well as in private companies where he developed oncological tests in the field of DNA methylation. Although Egor did not follow in his parents’ footsteps, their work did affect the path he took as an entrepreneur and Biomarker-RU is the result of that.
He stated that, “Skolkovo expertise helped us understand that we needed to narrow down the scope of our aspirations and make specific products. We are very thankful to Skolkovo for the advice we got at the very beginning; when they advised us to choose specific diseases, we chose breast cancer.”
In June 2019, after almost two years of due diligence procedures with positive results, the Biomarker-RU was no closer to getting investors. The company had for years declined microgrants from Skolkovo, seeking to maintain its independence from government money, and instead used money from the founders and funding attracted from the market. It would not be until 2020, in the midst of the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, that Egor Melnikov and his team would finally get the major investment they had long been looking for.
Natalia Polushkina, the vice-president and executive director of the biomedical technologies cluster stated to Sk.ru that, “We are very happy with the success of our participant company Biomarker-RU, which developed this new test for early cancer screening, and we hope that the project will successfully and quickly get through all the stages that are necessary to implement this development into clinical practice.”