Seer Launches to Develop Protein-Based Liquid Biopsies
Liquid biopsies are tests performed on blood to look for cancer cells or DNA from a tumor circulating in the blood. They are also used to detect other diseases. The key difference between a liquid biopsy and a traditional clinical blood test is the focus on identifying cells or DNA from whatever illness is being tested for. Traditional lab tests do this as well, but typically not by trying to identify and sort so much information.
There are quite a number of companies working in the area, including Guardant Health, Karius, Freenome, Apostle, and GRAIL Bio.
So far, Seer has raised $36 million combined in a Series A round led by Maverick Ventures and a Series B round led by Invus, with participation from other investors.
How Seer hopes to differentiate itself from the competitors is the focus on proteins, compared to the more typical focus on free-floating DNA. The proteomics technology originated in Farokhzad’s laboratory, which he tells Xconomy, “uses nanotechnology-based ‘biosensors’ to measure and profile the proteome in patient samples, and machine learning algorithms to crunch the data and find disease biomarkers.”
Currently Seer has about 20 employees and has already begun clinical studies in cancer diagnostics and neurological disorders.
Farokhzad has a mixed history with biotech startups. He was the founder and director of BIND Therapeutics, which declared bankruptcy in 2016 and sold its assets to Pfizer. In 2011 he founded Blend Therapeutics, which eventually became Tarveda Therapeutics. He remains on the company’s Scientific Advisory Board. In 2008 he founded Selecta Biosciences. Earlier this year Selecta halted a Phase I trial of SEL-403 in solid tumors after a patient death, although another drug, SEL-212, is in the clinic for severe gout.
But Farokhzad has gone all-in on Seer, leaving his position at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and moving from Boston to San Francisco. He indicates he wants to really have his fingerprints on the company.
Farokhzad suggests Seer will have clinical readouts in 2019 and 2020, and will plan to have a product to market in 2021. He also believes he will double the number of staffers in the next year.
Seer would seem to be in a catch-up position behind other companies, such as Grail. In June, Grail released new data from its Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas (CCGA) study. The data released was from blood samples from 127 patients with lung cancer. Detection rates had a sensitivity at 98 percent specificity and ranged from 38 to 51 percent in patients with early-stage lung cancer and 87 to 79 percent in late-stage lung cancers. And in May, Grail raised $300 million in an oversubscribed Series C financing. Since early 2016, Grail has raised more than $1.5 billion.
Johns Hopkins University is also investigating a liquid biopsy that uses genomic and proteomic biomarker data, and in a Science article published in January, identified 70 to 98 percent of cancers in more than 1,000 previously diagnosed patients. That test, Cancer-SEEK, is now being evaluated in 10,000 women with no history of cancer with the Geisinger health system in Pennsylvania.
If Farokhzad is daunted by this competition, he’s not admitting it. “Genomic information can only be part of the solution,” he said, emphasizing that the Grail results aren’t good enough, especially for early-stage disease, Xconomy reports.