A cutting-edge cancer testing company is suing one of its biggest rivals

Foundation Medicine, a company that got its start with backing from Google Ventures, Bill Gates, and other major tech investors, received a patent this morning that protects its cancer genomic sequencing process.

Now, it’s using that patent to sue a competitor, Guardant Health. Guardant’s liquid biopsy takes blood samples from cancer patients and sequences genetic information in that blood to figure out how tumours are responding to a certain cancer therapy.

Foundation’s patent extends until 2032, and includes “fundamental claims describing methods of analysing a cancer patient’s tissue or blood specimen to detect multiple classes of genomic alterations,” according to a news release.

The suit, filed Tuesday evening with the Eastern District Court of Texas, claims that Guardant’s test infringes on Foundation’s patent.

Theoretically, the patent can be used to stop other labs that use similar processes from running their tests. However, ahead of the filing Foundation said that’s not how it plans to use it.

“We certainly intend to pursue the value of this patent, we also have always been focused on and remain focused on a very patient-centric mission,” Foundation President Steve Kafka told Business Insider on Tuesday. “So our intent here is not to block other laboratories from their testing … but really to develop strategies to recognise the value that we’ve captured or we’ve created, rather.”

On Wednesday, Foundation reiterated in a statement that the company does not intend to use the patent to block access to tests.Guardant Health and Pathway Genomics, another company in the business of liquid biopsies, declined to comment on the patent.

Cancer genome sequencing

When people are diagnosed with cancer, there’s a pretty standard course of treatment to fight off the disease: the doctor may start with surgery or a regimen of drugs that are known to work on a particular type of cancer. But after a while, if that first round doesn’t knock out all the cancer cells, the cancer can come back and be even trickier to treat.

Those harder to treat and rare cancers is where cancer genomics companies, including Foundation Medicine, are trying to help. The company’s biopsy tests take a piece of cancer tissue (or sample of blood for blood-based cancers) and sequences the cancer’s genes to really understand what makes the cells tick. That information is analysed with the aim of finding a treatment plan. And earlier this month, the company launched its liquid biopsy test, which looks for circulating tumour DNA in the blood.

That data also goes into a Foundation Medicine database, where people ranging from doctors looking for methods to treat a certain rare cancer to pharmaceutical companies interested in finding the patients who will respond the best to a drug that’s in development could look at it.

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