Finding needles in a haystack is the life-and-death job of San Diego’s Epic Sciences. The needles are extremely rare cancer cells that hide among the millions of normal cells in the blood of cancer patients.
The privately held company uses a combination of imaging technology to detect abnormal cells in a blood sample, along with DNA sequencing of those abnormal cells for cancer. A spinoff of The Scripps Research Institute, Epic Sciences raised $40 million in venture funding in May to further develop its technology.
Epic’s tests can detect just a handful of abnormal cells among the millions on a slide, said Mark Landers, Epic’s vice president of translational research. The company takes about 10 milliliters, about two teaspoons, from a blood draw. Each test is performed on two slides, using 1 milliliter of blood.
Epic’s main test targets a difficult form of prostate cancer. It helps determine if patients should receive hormonal therapy or a more toxic chemotherapy. Prostate cancers are often driven by male hormones. Blocking them, a kind of chemical castration, inhibits growth. But prostate cancers tend to evolve resistance to hormone-blocking therapy and spread. These are known as metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancers.