By Brendan Coffey – SF Gate.
Silicon Valley real estate billionaire Carl Berg thinks he’s found a better prostate cancer test, and he’s investing hundreds of millions of dollars to bring it to market.
Berg LLC plans to introduce a blood test that promises to more accurately detect who’ll develop the cancer, including the millions of men who show signs of the malady yet may never develop it. The closely held company has collected hundreds of thousands of tissue samples from the Defense Department and analysed the trillions of protein and gene combinations to find common markers.
“I was tired of real estate,” Berg said. “I decided I was going to change my course and go for two or three companies that basically have a chance to revolutionize the world.”
A quarter of a million men in the U.S. will get prostate cancer this year. Almost 30,000 of those will die, according to the American Cancer Society. Testing for the cancer using the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, is a $3 billion market. It’s an imperfect science and leads to enough unwarranted biopsies and treatments that the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care recommended this week that doctors stop using it.
“It just doesn’t work,” James Dickinson, a professor at the University of Calgary and a member of the task force, said by phone. Abbott Laboratories and Eli Lilly & Co. are among the major pharmaceutical companies offering PSA tests, he said.
Berg says he sold his development company, Mission West Properties Inc., two years ago to focus on efforts more fulfilling than building office space for technology startups. The decision came as Berg LLC, which he founded nine years ago, showed promise of bringing multiple tests and treatments to market. In addition to the prostate test, Berg has a tumour drug, BPM 31510, in Phase 2 trials and is researching cures for Parkinson’s disease.
Leading Berg’s effort is Niven Narain, former head of skin cancer research at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Narain met Berg almost a decade ago after Mitch Gray, one of Berg LLC’s investors, approached him to consult on a skin care line they planned to build around Sea and Ski, a suntan lotion popular in the 1970s they’d acquired. Early tests showed the lotion had some anticancer properties, although at levels too low to be effective in patients, the billionaire said.
Berg became intrigued by Narain’s proposal to find other potential treatments through the use of supercomputers to analyze swaths of tissue and patient data. The technology angle struck a chord with Berg, who had invested in hundreds of technology companies beginning in the 1970s, including Sun Microsystems and Integrated Device Technology.
The billionaire said he avoided investing in biotechnology companies, primarily due to the regulatory risk posed by the Food and Drug Administration…read more.