03 September 2019 FD release
Translation of Dutch newspaper (Het Financieele Dagblad) article written by Thieu Vaessen. Source can be found via this link.
Van Herk puts € 20 million into diagnostics company for skin cancer
The Rotterdam entrepreneur and investor Aat van Herk is investing another € 20 million in his biotech company SkylineDx. The money is intended for the further development of a test with which doctors can better determine which cancer patients can forego treatment with immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a new and expensive treatment method.
"The potential of such a test is huge," says Dharminder Chahal, CEO of SkylineDx. The test is intended for patients with melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer, and characterises the tumour on the basis of eight different genes. This genetic research has to be a much cheaper and less invasive alternative to removing pieces of tissue from the lymph nodes.
For the further development of the 'eight gene test', SkylineDx has enlisted the help of Lex Eggermont, the general director of the Gustave Roussy cancer centre in Paris and a leading scientist in the field of melanoma. "Things are looking very good," says Eggermont about the as yet experimental test. "Hopefully we can protect eighty percent of patients from over treatment."
Van Herk is the Netherlands' largest investor in biotech companies developing new medicines. His 10%-stake in Galapagos alone is worth over € 950 million. Van Herk bought SkylineDx in 2013, after the Rotterdam biotech company had gone bankrupt. The entrepreneur appointed Chahal as CEO and quietly invested € 20 million in the restart.
The introduction of genetic testing is an important condition for the development of tailor-made medicine, whereby treatment methods are adapted to individual patients. However, commercially, diagnostics companies are struggling. Van Herk has already experienced this as a shareholder in Agendia, the Dutch biotech company behind the MammaPrint test for breast cancer. Agendia has been experiencing losses for 15 years.
Chahal expects biotech companies to be able to negotiate better prices for diagnostic tests, as their effectiveness is better proven. He is also mindful of the costs to be saved by outsourcing the marketing of the tests. Agendia has not, however, relinquished control of the sales of its tests. Castle Biosciences - SkylineDx' big competitor - also works with its own representatives.
Unravelling of the human genome
The development of genetic testing was made possible by the unravelling of the human genome in 2000. Scientists can therefore make increasingly better predictions about disease activity based on the gene expression of tumours. The MammaPrint test from Agendia predicts, based on a test of seventy genes, whether a woman who has undergone breast cancer surgery can responsibly forego further chemo treatment.
Ultimately, with its test, SkylineDx also hopes to be able to prove which melanoma patients actually benefit from treatment with immunotherapy. Currently, a share of patients who do not have metastases unnecessarily die because it is wrongly assumed that they can do without immunotherapy.
Prevention of ‘under-treatment’
The large pharmaceutical companies are very interested in a solution to this problem of 'under-treatment', not least because of the potentially beneficial effect on sales of their medicines. Chahal and Eggermont are in discussions with various large pharmaceutical groups about the financing of large-scale patient research. According to Eggermont, if these meet expectations, the test will lead to 'a complete turnaround in treatment policy'.