Exai Bio to Launch

“To build a new venture from the ground up,” Dr. Hani Goodarzi, Associate Professor, University of California, San Francisco, said. “it really takes a village.”

Exai Bio, a start-up company based on the University of California, San Francisco’s technologies – developed in Dr. Hani Goodarzi’s laboratory and focused on developing a next-generation liquid biopsy platform – launched big with $65M in financing. And as Dr. Goodarzi learned it takes more than just a great idea to launch a new product. Fortunately for Dr. Goodarzi and the cancer patients who could be helped by his work, UCSF has designed the Innovation Ventures department to help shepherd new healthcare discoveries into the market as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Dr. Goodarzi was born in Iran and studied data science and biotechnology at the University of Tehran. In 2006 he decided to pursue his PhD studies at Princeton University, and went on to begin his research at New York City’s Rockefeller University. In 2016 he joined the Department of Urology at UCSF, and eventually opened his own lab at the University to continue his cancer research.

“When I first disclosed my liquid biopsy discovery to the UCSF Innovation Ventures team,” Dr Goodarzi said. “My lab was only two years old, and I was largely clueless about all that is needed to take our preliminary findings and turn it into a foundational platform for disease discovery.”

Goodarzi had developed a pan-cancer, scalable liquid biopsy platform based on orphan non-coding RNAs (oncRNAs), and designed for early detection of multiple cancer types as well as residual disease detection and monitoring. oncRNAs are only observed in cancer and diseased tissues, and not in normal cells. They act as molecular fingerprints to communicate underlying disease biology and are detectable in blood using a unique sample preparation, next-generation sequencing, and an advanced AI platform. The revolutionary liquid biopsy technique delivers actionable insight into cancer biology from a simple blood draw, and has the potential to radically transform our ability to detect, diagnose, treat, and ultimately cure cancer. This is definitely a technology the University wants to advance.

Dr. Goodarzi’s first point of contact at the University's Office of Technology Management and Advancement (OTMA) was Dr. Gemma Rooney who walked him through the disclosure process and helped him put together a provisional application by working with a patent attorney.

“I was then introduced to Dr. Roopa Ramamoorthi,” Dr. Goodazi said. “She encouraged us to apply to the Catalyst program. The Catalyst award was the turning point for us; not only did we received crucial and timely funding to carry out a large retrospective clinical study in collaboration with the ISPY2 trial group at UCSF, but we also received mentorship and support through a network of consultants.”

Specifically, Dr. Goodazi was introduced to Dr. Kenneth Fang, who remains a core team member to this day.

“This ‘incubation period' was essential,” Dr. Goodazi said. “It allowed us to turn an abstract scientific finding into a tractable diagnostic platform.”

At this point, Dr. Darya Bubman, in her role as a leader on the Engagement and Opportunity Development team (EOD) in OTMA reached out to Dr. Goodarzi to discuss the next steps. EOD’s role is to perform an early assessment of inventions at UCSF for market opportunity, identify good start-up opportunities, and partner with the founders on these promising pre-companies in order to nurture them and help them reach the investment milestone. The first barrier for Dr. Goodarzi was to find experienced co-founders who both shared his vision and were capable of realizing it. With help from the newly founded EiR program spearheaded by Dr. Bubman, he was introduced to Patrick Arensdorf, an expert and a veteran in the diagnostic space. Shortly thereafter, the core Exai Bio team was formed, with Dr. Bubman as a key team member.

“We heavily relied on the network of venture capital investors and key opinion leaders that Innovation Ventures has built to enable our financing round,” Dr. Goodazi said.

Exai Bio launched following an “oversubscribed” series ‘A’ round of financing that netted them $65M in investments. The company, now an autonomous NewCo continues to collaborate with UCSF, which remains a significant shareholder.

“It takes a village to build a new venture from the ground up,” Dr. Goodazi reminds us. “And in Innovation Ventures, I found my village.”