Clara Biotech boasts first-of-its-kind cancer detection from lab in Lawrence

By: Elyssa Bezner, Reporter–   August 13, 2019

A Kansas startup says its cancer detection process — requiring only a single blood sample — could dramatically simplify a often-harrowing health care experience, as well as lead to personalized treatments for illnesses ranging from cancer to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis.

Founders: Dr. Mei He, James West

Founding year: 2015

Amount raised to date:$315,000

Programs completed: NIH I-Corps 2018 1% SBIR Awards; Hello Tomorrow 2018 Top 500 Finalist; Atlanta Startup Battle 2019 Top 10 Finalist; NIH MedTech Innovators Top 150 Finalist; Partnering for Growth Finalist 2019 Top 10 Finalist

Clara Biotech — based in Lawrence at the BioScience and Technology Business Center (BSTB)  — was founded by University of Kansas assistant professor Dr. Mei He in 2015 after research pointed to a possible platform that isolates the exosomes that facilitate cancer activity much more efficiently than the currently accepted ultracentrifugation process, said James West.

Click here to learn more about Clara Biotech.

James West, Clara Biotech

James West, Clara Biotech

“It really is a transformative medical opportunity,” said West, CEO at Clara. “If we were to just take breast cancer exosomes and isolate them — because [we could determine] their exact communication network — you could actually patch drugs or other things to them, then put them back in and see a personalized, drug delivery vehicle based on your own biology.”

“What Clara is trying to do is not actually develop any single one of these treatments or diagnostics — we’re trying to solve the sample preparation broadly for researchers and companies that want to bring these applications to market,” he explained.

Officing directly across the street from He’s KU research lab makes collaboration between the university and BSTB simple and extremely beneficial — especially as the startup struggles to find area investors willing to take on the early-stage firm in the biotech industry, he added.

“A lot of investors want a little more traction before they’re willing to invest and there’s the same requirements on the coast, but in Kansas City the other problem is that … expertise among the investment community with what we’re doing is not readily available,” West said.

“Our goal is to build everything in Lawrence but that kind of depends on a lot of different factors — one being the [locating] of people that we need to help build out our product,” he added.

Dr. Mei He, Clara Biotech

Dr. Mei He, Clara Biotech

Strengthening the sales and marketing process for the firm’s exosome isolation services is the priority for the next year, as well as starting to manufacture and source their own biofluids to sell to researchers or companies also in the field, said West.

“One of the nice things about our technology is that we can actually provide the highest quality [of exosomes] in the most pure sources,” he added.

Farther down the road is the manufacturing of the ExoSS lab tool — available through the Early Access Program for immediate service upon the official product launch — making the exosome isolation process possible in any lab wishing to work independently, he said. The implications of widely using the process could mean significant treatments for illnesses that previously proved to be lifelong afflictions, he added.

“Cancer is not the limit,” West said. “[The process is as revolutionary] in the same way that stem cells and genetic engineering and other things have grown in the field of biology.”

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