Startup Adds Color to Testing for Cancer Genes

April 22, 2015
Startup Adds Color to Testing for Cancer Genes
Source: © Monkey Business/Fotolia

Promising to bring the benefits of genetic testing to every woman and man, Color Genomics said yesterday it was launching with $15 million in financing, and an immediately-available $249 test for genes linked to breast and ovarian cancers.

The company’s Color Test is designed to analyze mutations in the 19 genes known to be responsible for an inherited predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer—including BRCA1 and BRCA 2. A mutation in the former gene caused actress Angelina Jolie to have a preventive double mastectomy, she disclosed in 2013.

Color says all of its tests are physician-ordered, whether a test-taker’s own physician or one designated by the company. Tests are carried out in the company’s CLIA-certified laboratory, and include access to genetic counseling at no additional cost.

“Color is democratizing access to genetic testing,” the company declared in a blog post announcing its formation. “Every woman should have the choice and opportunity to get tested for her genetic risk of breast and ovarian cancer in an affordable, accessible, high-quality way.”

To that end, Color said, it is partnering with major cancer centers—citing by name University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and University of Washington Medical Center, and the Abrahamson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania—to provide free testing to women who are unable to afford it, in what the company calls its Every Woman Program. And as part of its purchasing process, Color added, women buying their own tests can opt to donate money to help support a woman who cannot afford testing.

According to the company, men can also benefit from the tests, since they may carry a mutation in one of the 19 genes analyzed that may raise their risk of certain cancers, including male breast cancer.

Headquartered in Burlingame, CA, Color won $15 million in series A financing from VC firms Khosla Ventures and Formation 8, along with funders that include The Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone; Laurene Powell Jobs, Widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs; Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang; and Dropbox co-founder CEO Drew Houston.

“Building a high-quality, but affordable test required significant investments in software design, big data, bio-informatics, CLIA compliance, laboratory automation, and genetics,” Othman  Laraki, Color’s president, said in a statement. “By marrying multiple emerging disciplines, we have developed something many did not think was possible.”

In addition to Laraki, Color’s co-founders include CEO Elad Gil, Ph.D., a former MIT cancer researcher who later served as a product and strategy executive at Twitter and Google; Taylor Sittler, M.D., a former pathologist at UCSF; and founding engineer Nish Bhat, a former security engineer at Lookout and software engineering intern at LinkedIn.

Color’s advisors and scientific collaborators include Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., of the University of Washington, the researcher credited with discovering and naming BRCA1; Tom Walsh, Ph.D., also of UW, and co-developer with Dr. King of the BROCA targeted capture and genomic sequencing approach; and Stan Lapidus, CEO and founder of SynapDx, a developer of lab tests for laboratory tests for autism and other developmental disorders in children, and an MIT instructor who holds over  30 U.S. patents.

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