Christian Doppler Research Grant Awarded to Freenome and the Medical University of Graz to Advance Understanding of Gene Expression Changes in Cancer Using Circulating Biomarkers

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. & GRAZ, Austria — (BUSINESS WIRE) — Freenome and the Medical University of Graz jointly announced the launch of a new Christian Doppler (CD) Laboratory dedicated to advancing research into early-cancer detection and precision oncology options for patients.

The lab will utilize Freenome’s proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) genomics platform to better understand complex patterns in cell-free biomarkers that circulate in the blood, with a focus on studies marrying Freenome’s technology with the research excellence at the Medical University of Graz, particularly in imputing broad epigenetic changes from blood and optimizing ex-U.S. study designs to procure high-quality samples for analysis.

The partnership features leading cell-free DNA (cfDNA) experts at the Medical University of Graz, including Professors Ellen Heitzer and Michael Speicher, who have published extensively in the space, and Ph.D. candidate, Peter Ulz, the lead author of the 2016 Nature Genetics paper, “Inferring expressed genes by whole-genome sequencing of plasma DNA,” research central to validating Freenome’s technological approach to early cancer detection. To download a white paper on this important work, click here.

“Cell-free biomarkers, including cfDNA, are fragments of nucleic acids and other molecules that result when cells die and begin to break down in the bloodstream,” according to Professor Ellen Heitzer of the Medical University of Graz, Principal Investigator of the lab. “Detecting patterns among billions of these circulating biomarkers to study the tumor’s interaction with other cell types can only be accomplished with the aid of artificial intelligence specifically engineered for that purpose, so Freenome was a natural partner for us.”

According to Imran Haque, Ph.D., Freenome’s Chief Scientific Officer, “One area of focus will be expanding our understanding of the significance of nucleosome footprints, which are key to the dynamics of gene expression and the patient’s immune system response to the presence of cancer. The Medical University of Graz has been a leader in this important research, and we’re excited to deepen our collaboration.”

The lab will be co-sponsored by Freenome and the Austrian public purse. It is supported and evaluated by the Christian Doppler Research Association, which awards highly competitive grants to the most promising co-operative academic-industry research projects.

Organizations that have co-sponsored Christian Doppler Labs in the past include QIAGEN, with the lab of Professor Kurt Zatloukal, also at the Medical University of Graz, and F-Star, the UK biotech company whose CD Lab focused on innovative immunotherapeutics, prior to F-star’s successful deal with Merck KGaA to co-develop drug targets.

About Freenome:

Freenome is an AI genomics company on a mission to empower everyone with the tools they need to detect, treat, and ultimately prevent their diseases. By applying advanced machine learning techniques to recent breakthroughs in genomic science, Freenome is developing noninvasive blood tests to detect early-stage cancer and improve precision oncology treatments for millions of patients. The company has raised $78 million from investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, Polaris Partners, and Founders Fund. More information at:

About the Christian Doppler Research Association:

The Christian Doppler Research Association was created to advance application-oriented basic research at the highest levels through best-practice, public-private partnerships. By connecting leading academic scientists with innovative private companies, Christian Doppler Laboratories are working to answer the world’s most pressing scientific questions. Jointly financed by the Austrian public purse and participating firms, the association’s most important public sponsor is the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs.


Lena Cheng, MD