Spokane Journal of Business

Whatever Happened To: Genetics entrepreneur Lisa Shaffer

Experienced at launching companies, she hopes to bring cancer detection test to Inland Northwest

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-Mike McLean
Lisa Shaffer, shown here with one of her five minature horses, says she is trying to be retired, but she’s still inventing and working in the startup space.

While geneticist Lisa Shaffer considers herself semi-retired after selling two highly successful Spokane companies in which she was a founding principal, she still has several interests that she says keep her active enough.

She’s quite excited, though, about her participation on the board of Tucson, Arizona-based Precision Epigenomics, a molecular diagnostics startup in the field of cancer detection.

“I would like to help bring the Precision Epigenomics liquid biopsy tests to the Inland Northwest, and I plan to work with the leadership of the company to come up with a strategy to do this,” she says.

The Journal’s last report involving Shaffer was in September 2020, when she sold animal genetic testing company Genetic Veterinary Sciences Inc., which does business as Paw Print Genetics, to Lansing, Michigan-based Neogen Corp.

Shaffer, 60, and Jeff Shaffer, her husband of 39 years, live on a farm north of Spokane, where they have five miniature horses, two wiener dogs named Squeegee and Frankie, and two large farm dogs named Linus and Lucy. They have three adult children.

Shaffer remains a member of the Spokane Angel Alliance and attends its pitch sessions. “I was a judge for Sparks Weekend last year and hope to participate again this fall,” she says.

She also presents lectures occasionally at Gonzaga and Whitworth universities.

“I’m trying to be (retired),” she says. “I’m not looking for a full-time job.”

However, Shaffer says her role might increase with Precision Epigenomics. The company has developed a test that she believes can detect over 20 different cancer types from a single blood draw.

The test detects changes in DNA and the specific cancers associated with those changes before the subject shows signs of becoming ill.

“If it can find cancer in otherwise healthy people, it means they can have better outcomes,” she says.

Precision Epigenomics’ initial clinical studies, which she says look promising, will help define protocols for what the company hopes will become a widely used screening project.

Precision Epigenomics was founded by Mark Nelson, who Shaffer has known since they both were undergraduates at Washington State University.

“We’ve stayed in contact since that time,” she says. “Mark reached out to me after Paw Print Genetics was acquired and asked me to join the board of directors of the company.”

She says Precision Epigenomics hopes to tap into her entrepreneurial business expertise.

The company is in the pre-revenue stage and is seeking $2 million in a current fundraising round. It plans to launch its first product, a multicancer, early detection test named Sentinel-10, later this year, she says.

While the lab work for the test will be conducted in Arizona, Shaffer says she’s hoping to recruit physicians here to begin using it for cancer screening.

“I’m going to try to bring testing to the Inland Northwest when it’s launched in the fall,” she says.

She says the entrepreneurial ecosystem is “very strong here compared to when I started my first company ... in 2003, and continues to get stronger each year.”

She and co-founder Dr. Bassem Bejjani grew Signature Genomics, a biotech company that conducted genetic testing for children with developmental disabilities, to 120 employees in 2010, when it was acquired by PerkinElmer Inc. for $90 million.

PerkinElmer shut down its Spokane operations in mid-2014, laying off 80 workers here, as part of the shutdown of its genetic testing services division.

By then, Shaffer had launched Paw Print Genetics. Before it was acquired by Neogen, the company, which offers genetic disease testing and analysis for dogs, cats, and birds, had made the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies two consecutive years and had grown to 40 employees.

In a relatively recent personal interest, Shaffer says she learned how to quilt in 2019, prior to the pandemic. During the pandemic, she made several quilts for family members.

“Since then, I’ve continued to quilt in my spare time,” she says.

Still an entrepreneur, Shaffer says she’s developed a quilting tool that she doesn’t want to reveal too much about, because she hasn’t decided yet whether to commercialize it.

“It’s very helpful,” she says. “I’ve tried to find it (on the market), but it doesn’t exist.”

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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