Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Somagenics technology helps oncologists select most effective treatment

By Sara Isenberg
Founder, Publisher, Editor-in-Chief of Santa Cruz Tech Beat

April 30, 2015 — Santa Cruz, CA

Somagenics awarded two-year NIH grant

Finding biomarkers in blood or urine without requiring a biopsy is an urgent goal of oncologists

Somagenics, a privately held biotech company with offices and laboratories located in Santa Cruz, has been awarded a two-year NIH grant to develop its novel RealSeq™–T technology for targeted next-generation sequencing (NGS) of small RNAs such as microRNA. The principal investigator on the new grant is Dr. Sergio Barberan-Soler (PhD, UCSC).

According to Dr. Brian Johnston, CEO of Somagenics, their technology will help oncologists choose the most effective treatment based on a blood or urine sample without requiring a more expensive biopsy. Johnston said:

“With cancer, there’s a great need to know whether a tumor is aggressive and requires urgent treatment, whether it will respond to any of the new targeted treatments that are becoming available and, once a treatment starts, whether it is working. Finding biomarkers in blood or urine that give this kind of information without requiring a biopsy is therefore an urgent goal of oncologists. A good biomarker allows them to choose the most effective treatment without wasting time or money on expensive treatments that won’t help, and may give early indications of how well it is working. Deep (or next-generation) sequencing is the new way to discover biomarkers, but the existing technology for sequencing can miss potential biomarkers. Somagenics’ new grant is to develop our invention of an improved approach that will ensure that those potential biomarkers are not missed.”


The following additional information was contributed by Somagenics:

There is increasing interest in using NGS for miRNA biomarker discovery from biofluids such as blood plasma as well as for miRNA expression profiling and diagnostic purposes. There are many advantages to using NGS, including unlimited multiplexing, high sensitivity, sequence specificity and ability to detect miRNA sequence editing. Targeted NGS brings these advantages to the quantification of any specific  group of sequences of interest. However, sequence bias in the construction of the small RNA libraries used in sequencing has so far limited the utility of NGS, both targeted and non-targeted. This bias gives distorted small RNA profiles and renders some species of RNA that might be good biomarkers unavailable for accurate quantification.

“RealSeq–T improves the accuracy and sensitivity of targeted NGS compared to current methods and provides accurate quantification of all miRNA species of interest,” said Dr. Brian Johnston.  “We are excited to pursue this technology as it should dramatically increase the utility of NGS in miRNA profiling, diagnostics, and biomarker discovery and validation.”

The new approach includes 3 key elements: minimizing sequence bias, improving consistent recovery of miRNA, and use of internal quality controls to assess dynamic range. Somagenics’ novel approach will also dramatically increase sample throughput and reduce sequencing cost per sample.

SomaGenics specializes in developing innovative technologies that focus on RNA molecules as therapeutic agents and targets as well as biomarkers. Besides sshRNA, miR-Direct™ and RealSeq–T, the company’s technology platforms also include miR-ID®, a novel circularization-based RT-qPCR method for small RNA detection, and mR-FQ™, a method for quantifying fragmented RNA from formaldehyde-fixed, paraffin-embedded histology specimens.




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