Lariat Biosciences Spotlight
It is no surprise that development investments into liquid biopsies has surged recently. They offer easily repeatable, noninvasive genetic characterization of cancers, even informing personalized treatment for later stage disease. However, the approach has traditionally been limited to advanced cancer; the challenge of detecting vanishingly small numbers of biomarkers thwarts its usage for early stage detection. Yet, catching cancer early is indisputably the best therapeutic approach. That is why NSIV member Lariat Biosciences was founded around developing a technology with the highest sensitivity to find cancer in the bloodstream at the earliest stages.
“It’s a needle in a haystack hunt that we’re after,” says Lariat’s founder and CEO, Jonathan Larson. “Detecting cancer at the earliest stages, where you may have one molecule that’s a mutant for every hundred thousand that aren’t, and where the difference between those molecules is at a single base level… that’s what we’re trying to tackle technically in the lab.” Since 2013, Lariat has been working on an approach called Rare Variant Enrichment (RVE™) to solve this problem. RVE™ utilizes Lariat’s core competencies in microfluidics and biochemical assays to turn the normally indistinguishable signal from one rare mutant molecule into one that could be easily detected through standard next-generation sequencing readouts.
Lariat is grateful for funding supporting these efforts from two Phase I SBIRs from the NCI and a MassRamp grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. In addition to the SBIR awards, Lariat also participated in the NIH’s I-Corps program during the summer of 2018. Through I-Corps Lariat completed over 100 customer discovery interviews to gain first-hand insights into the business development side of the application to prepare for first clinical demonstrations.
Lariat is somewhat unique at the NSIV, having arrived without any technology previously developed at another lab. In their time at NSIV, Lariat has submitted numerous patent applications spanning both their biochemistry and microfluidic technologies. In October of 2018, Lariat was granted their first patent, NO.10,105,702 Microfluidic Methods for Manipulating DNA. The intellectual property around microfluidic methods has attracted multiple strategic consulting projects, licensing opportunities, and prompted Lariat to develop their own microfluidic instrument, DropTini™. The DropTini™ development was motivated by the rapidly growing interest in digital biology.
Starting from nothing but a concept is never easy. Larson’s advice for startups following a similar path? “Get yourself a good panel of mentors early. Most people understand the technical risks, but there are so many pitfalls along the way that you wouldn’t even think of. Your mentors can guide you around those.”