PGDx Builds Genome Sequencing Business in Baltimore with $21 Million in Series A Funding

PGDx Builds Genome Sequencing Business in Baltimore with $21 Million in Series A Funding

Luis Diaz Jr. and Victor Velculescu

Johns Hopkins startup Personal Genome Diagnostics is revolutionizing cancer medicine with innovative genomic technologies that precisely identify and characterize unique genomic alterations in tumors. At its Baltimore headquarters, the company is working to achieve broad patient access to its lifesaving approaches by offering both a comprehensive genomic service menu and a technology transfer solution that will allow other molecular laboratories to easily incorporate the tests it has developed.

And the company’s employees—more than 60 and still growing in number—settle in Baltimore because they want cutting-edge jobs at a company whose products and services can make a big difference in people’s lives.

Personal Genome Diagnostics, better known as PGDx, was founded in 2010 by oncologists Luis Diaz Jr. and Victor Velculescu. They and their Johns Hopkins colleagues performed the first cancer genome analysis more than a decade ago. This research led to the technology that PGDx licenses from Johns Hopkins.

In the past five years, the company has gone from a one-person lab to an outfit employing 63 people in a renovated former tin can–decorating factory on the waterfront of Canton, a Baltimore neighborhood on the rise. Biotechnology is breathing new life into the mixed-use building—and into Baltimore.

“We’ve always felt a strong allegiance to Baltimore and to Johns Hopkins, and we felt that combining clinical and scientific know-how in a Baltimore-based company would not only help cancer patients all over the world but also bring a valuable resource to the Baltimore economy,” Diaz says.

“Our hope is to stay in Baltimore and double the size of the company,” he adds. A few of PGDx’s employees are even former trainees of Diaz and Velculescu at Johns Hopkins, which means PGDx is helping to keep some of the university’s best and brightest minds in the Baltimore innovation ecosystem.

In October, PGDx finished raising $21.4 million in a Series A funding round led by global venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA). The funding will help the company continue to grow, providing a major boost to Baltimore.

“The one venture capital company that stood out to us, in terms of the caliber of its services and its support for our enterprise, was NEA,” founded in Baltimore and now the largest venture capital firm in the world, Velculescu explains.

Specifically, the funding will allow PGDx to transform from a service company—performing genome analyses for clients—to a service and product company, transferring its novel methods and technologies into a technology platform that will enable molecular laboratories elsewhere to take on high-quality genomic cancer testing both rapidly and affordably.

One thing that separates PGDx’s genomic sequencing capabilities from that of its competitors is that its technology is based on analyzing both healthy and affected tissue. That way, gene mutations that have nothing to do with a patient’s cancer are not counted among a patient’s tumor-specific mutations.

And the precise, personalized medicine that PGDx provides will be a boon to the field of immunotherapy, which seeks to harness a person’s own immune system to target specific types of cancer.

Other Johns Hopkins researchers who contributed to developing PGDx’s technology include Kenneth Kinzler, co-director of Johns Hopkins’ Ludwig Center for Cancer Research; oncologist Nickolas Papadopoulos; Bert Vogelstein, co-director of the Ludwig Center; and Shibin Zhou, director of experimental therapeutics for the Ludwig Center.

“There’s a lot of talent right here in Baltimore,” Diaz says, “and it’s fertile ground for innovation and development.”

By growing a world-class biotech company right here in Baltimore, he and Velculescu are building up the city’s innovation ecosystem while improving health care for people across the country and around the globe.


Read more in this issue.
March 2016