UCD Spin-out OncoMark acquired by US molecular diagnostic firm

Posted 17 December 2021

Professor William Gallagher, who was named Science Foundation Ireland's 2021 Researcher of the Year in honour of his many outstanding achievements in the field of cancer research

OncoMark, a University College Dublin spin-out, has formally been acquired by Cepheid, an American molecular diagnostics firm.

The medtech company, co-founded by Professor William Gallagher and Steve Penney as a spin-out from the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and the UCD Conway Institute, is developing a prognostic test for breast cancer.

Its novel test for early-stage Breast Cancer (OncoMasTR) has the potential to reduce the number of breast cancer patients receiving unnecessary chemotherapy.

The OncoMasTR test is based on a panel of genetic 'drivers' of breast cancer, and was CE Marked in preparation for launch in EU markets.

With the acquisition of OncoMark by Cepheid, it will now be launched on Cepheid’s world-leading GeneXpert Platform in global markets.

Subsequent to the sale of OncoMark, a new company, OncoAssure was established by former OncoMark senior management, with all former OncoMark staff moving across to OncoAssure to continue the development of biomarkers in other cancers, outside of breast cancer. OncoAssure is headquartered at NovaUCD.

“I am delighted to see the ongoing translation of OncoMasTR towards the clinic via Cepheid’s innovative GeneXpert platform,” said Professor Gallagher, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, former Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) at OncoMark and currently OncoAssure CSO.

“The underpinning OncoMasTR technology originated from a fantastic collaboration between Professor Adrian Bracken’s team based at Trinity College Dublin whose focus on fundamental aspects of cancer cell biology dovetailed very nicely with our interests in translational cancer research at UCD.”

Tom Flanagan, UCD Director of Enterprise and Commercialisation, NovaUCD added: "OncoMark is an excellent example of the quality of the spin-outs which have emerged from UCD and we have been delighted to support the company to develop and grow over the last number of years.

“I would especially like to commend the entrepreneurial spirit and mindset of OncoMark's founders and management team in immediately establishing a new company, OncoAssure. The company, based at NovaUCD, is focused on developing a new panel of biomarkers for a prostate cancer test and we look forward to working with the team in the years ahead to support them to reach their global ambitions."

The original research that led to the development of the OncoMasTR test was led by Professor Adrian Bracken, Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College Dublin and involved researchers at the UCD Conway Institute, led by Professor William Gallagher.

It was subsequently exclusively licensed by both universities to OncoMark.

Des O’Leary, former OncoMark CEO, and now OncoAssure CEO said: “I am very pleased that the novel OncoMasTR test developed by OncoMark will be brought to the clinic and commercialised by Cepheid, a world-leading molecular diagnostic company. This will ensure that patients world-wide will be able to reap the considerable benefits of the test.

“Furthermore, with the establishment of OncoAssure, the former OncoMark team, using a very similar approach, are now working on the development of biomarkers to address significant unmet needs in other cancers. The lead product in this pipeline is a test for prostate cancer that will help clinicians identify those patients that can safely opt for active surveillance, rather than aggressive treatment.”

Scott Campbell, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Oncology at Cepheid, added: “A GeneXpert version of the OncoMasTR test is a very important part of our portfolio plan for breast cancer diagnostics and it has been a pleasure working with Des and the former OncoMark team on this program.”

Prior to its acquisition OncoMark had secured funding from several investors including, Kernel Capital, through the Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Venture Funds, the Irrus Investments syndicate, the Galway HBAN MedTech syndicate, private investors and Enterprise Ireland. Additional funding was also secured by the company in 2016 through a Horizon 2020 SME Instrument Phase 2 Award.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)