A startup company that is working to fight cancer is moving to Madison from Chicago on Jan. 1, and is bringing along its first round of funds from investors.
Capio Biosciences has developed technology that can identify cancer cells in the bloodstream, said co-founder and president Seungpyo Hong.
By taking blood samples, or “liquid biopsies,” as a cancer patient goes through treatment, Capio’s device, the OncoSense CTC, can pinpoint cancerous cells and measure them to see how the patient is responding to the treatment, Hong said.
He said it’s faster, easier and less expensive than conventional tumor biopsies or body scans.
Hong joined the UW-Madison faculty this week as a professor of pharmaceutical sciences; he had been at the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.
Hong and Capio co-founder Andrew Wang, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, started brainstorming the project in the 2006-2008 time period, when they were both working in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab of Prof. Robert Langer. Langer is one of the most celebrated U.S. biotechnology researchers, with more than 1,000 issued or pending patents and a long list of awards.
Hong and Wang formed Capio Biosciences in 2013 and have been developing their nanotechnology-based device.
In pilot studies conducted by Wang so far, 50 to 60 patients have been monitored, most with advanced head and neck cancers, and by reading the CTC, or circulating tumor cell numbers, the company has been able to identify which treatments have been effective, Hong said.
“We have shown our device can be used for many different types of cancer cells, especially those that metastasize through the blood,” Hong said.
The company is renting space at 505 S. Rosa Road, in the MGE Innovation Center at University Research Park. Its first investors — a Chinese pharmaceutical company and angel investors — have provided $2.9 million, the first part of a $4.5 million financing round. The rest, Hong said, will come after the company reaches certain milestones.
Hong said Capio — whose name is derived from the Greek word meaning “capture” — hopes to apply for federal clearance for its technology in two or three years.
As a cancer researcher whose own family has a history of the disease, Hong said his goal is to try to “help at least one patient. That’s the dream of my career.”.
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NorthStar Medical Technologies is the parent company of NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, which is working on two technologies to produce molybdenum-99, a radioisotope that decays into technetium-99m, which is used in millions of medical diagnostic procedures.
NorthStar, formerly of Madison and now based in Beloit, says it has received another $6.7 million, for a total of $11.1 million from the agency.
The latest funding advances one of two agreements between NorthStar and the U.S. Department of Energy agency, one for each of the technologies.
The agreements call for the company and the federal agency to each come up with $25 million, for a combined pot of $50 million.
The first such agreement already is fully funded, at $50 million.
NorthStar already is producing molybdenum-99 at the University of Missouri Research Reactor in Columbia, Missouri.
The company also is building a plant in Beloit.