Posted Sep. 28, 2017 at 5:23 a.m.

Foundation Medicine building RTP lab into key hub

Published: 2017-09-28 05:23:10
Updated: 2017-09-28 05:23:10

Steven Kafka, president, COO of Foundation Medicine

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Foundation Medicine, a Cambridge, Massachusetts firm selling genomic cancer tests, opened a precision health laboratory in Morrisville last year that it is growing into a major facility.

The company intends to grow the Triangle site into a “key lab hub,” where it will also build out supporting services in technology and client services.

Foundation, which provides genomic profiling assays that identify the molecular alterations in a patient's cancer and match them with relevant targeted therapies, said it plans to grow in the Research Triangle for the same reasons it located here.

“The talent base there [in North Carolina] is proving to be really important to us,” said Foundation President and Chief Operating Officer Steven Kafka in a phone interview from his Cambridge office.

“Having the operational infrastructure and access to talent is one of the reasons the RTP came to the top of our selection list. There is a tremendous community there already.”

That includes not just scientists with expertise in testing, cancer research and genomics, but also people with skills in technology and customer service that the company intends to “tap into,” Kafka said.

NC operation to grow significantly

The Morrisville facility has grown steadily, and now employs nearly 50 people. Plans are to steadily build out and use more of the 50,000 square feet of space. “We’re using a minority of that now,” Kafka noted.

“Delivering really high-quality results to your customers requires more than just the lab. An important part of the results we provide includes a big component of computational biology and informatics. We’re very high-touch with customers.”

Founded in 2009, the company raised $96.5 million in venture capital over four funding rounds with participation from major investment firms such as Google Ventures, Third Rock Ventures, Gates, Deerfield Capital Management, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. It went public in 2013 and raised $106 million priced at $18 a share in its initial public offering.

Roche acquired a major interest in Foundation in 2015, paying slightly more than $1 billion for a majority stake. Kafka said the association with Roche will be beneficial for the company’s business strategies ahead. “Roche and Genentech are among the leading oncology companies in the world. We have their support and we’re able to use their infrastructure.”

Latest assay headed for Phase 3 trials

Foundation has four products commercially available to physicians now. Its flagship product, FoundationOne, tests solid tumors, as does its FoundationACT. By sequencing more than 300 genes in a sample, doctors can find mutations vulnerable to a given treatment.

Another, FoundationOne Heme, tests blood-based cancers and FoundationFocus ovarian cancer. More are in the pipeline. The company expects to do about 64,000 tests this year.

Kafka said the company is excited about its latest assay, which measures tumor mutational burden in blood, which is a new, non-invasive predictor of response to immunotherapy. It’s about to go into Phase 3 clinical trials to validate it as a biomarker in first-line immunotherapy.

Immunology in oncology “is an exciting new area and we’re keen to be doing the work we are in that field with big pharmaceutical partners,” he said

“My family was touched by cancer,” he noted. So it’s personally meaningful to him that Foundation “leave no stone unturned” in its efforts to develop and deliver tests that direct doctors to the most effective treatments.

Kafka said the North Carolina lab will provide end-to-end testing over its whole portfolio as the corporation continues to build it out. The company lists 10 job openings at the Morrisville site on the NCBiotech Jobs Board.

Kafka said that during Foundation’s first year in the Triangle, the company has already established many significant partnerships at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We do a robust business in North Carolina,” he announced.

This story courtesy of the NC Biotechnology Center.

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