Good Start Genetics Inc. closed an $18 million Series A funding round and tapped former Exact Sciences Corp. (NSDQ:EXAS) head Don Hardison to be its president and CEO.
The Boston-based company is developing a pre-pregnancy genetic test designed to screen for a panel of genetic disorders, including sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. Hardison told MassDevice that Good Start will use the financing to commercialize the test, which he expects to hit the market some time next year.
The test is aimed at physicians in fertility clinics, who typically order tests to screen patients for gene mutations indicating a risk for certain diseases or disorders. In the case of cystic fibrosis, Hardison told us, the tests used today identify 23 mutations associated with the disease.
"The chips that have been built typically look for those 23 mutations. The problem is that there are 1,700 mutations associated with cystic fibrosis. We sequence the entire gene," Hardison told us. "You’re going to have a better idea if you are a carrier or not."
The test is also affordable and customizable for each patient, he added, and can be run for more than one patient simultaneously. It uses second-generation gene sequencing technology via analyzers made by companies like Illumina Inc. (NSDQ:ILMN) and Helicos Biosciences Corp. (NSDQ:HLCS), Hardison said.
"Our secret sauce is the capture of the genes of patients and the capability to analyze more than one patient per test run," he said, noting that the Good Start test will be marketed directly to fertility doctors, rather than directly to consumers.
"I think genetics is complex as it is. It needs to be just part of the complete medical picture of the patient. That doctor-patient relationship is pretty key for something this complex," Hardison said.
Good Start won a $500,000 “accelerator” loan from the Mass. Life Sciences Center in April 2009, which the company paid off Sept. 3 using part of the proceeds from the A round, according to Hardison. That initial seed money was crucial for Good Start, he added.
"That actually kept this company going for a while," Hardison said.
The Series A round was was led by OrbiMed Advisors, Safeguard Scientifics Inc. (NYSE:SFE) and SV Life Sciences. OrbiMed’s Carl Gordon, Gary Kurtzman of Safeguard Scientifics and Lutz Giebel of SV Life Sciences all joined chairman Marc Beer, Robert Carpenter and Hardison on Good Start’s board of directors.
"As important as the financing is that we really got great directors from each of those firms. It’s a really strong board," Hardison said.
Beer is the former CEO of umbilical cord blood banking firm ViaCell, which was acquired by PerkinElmer Inc. (NYSE:PKI) in 2007. Carpenter is a director at Genzyme Corp. (NSDQ:GENZ).