Johns Hopkins Launches Liquid Biopsy Company with $110 Million Series A

rocket launching out of hand

Thrive Earlier Detection Corp., a liquid biopsy company, raised $110 million in Series A funding. The company is launching CancerSEEK, a liquid biopsy test to detect multiple cancers early. The round was led by Third Rock Ventures with Section 32, Casdin Capital, Biomatics Capital, BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, Invus, Exact Sciences and others.

Liquid biopsies, as compared to a solid tissue biopsy, 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 generally not by trying to identify and sort so much information. In some cases, the liquid biopsy is conducted as a broad screening test utilizing next-generation sequencing.

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Thrive came out of the research of Bert Vogelstein, Kenneth Kinzler and Nickolas Papadopoulos at Johns Hopkins University.

CancerSEEK merges analysis of a targeted set of DNA and protein in blood to detect cancer. In a retrospective study published in the journal Science, the test showed greater than 99% specificity. The company expects to integrate real-world data (RWD) and machine learning to improve the assay over time and develop a cost-effective comprehensive care solution for primary care physicians.

“Over the past 30 years we have made great strides in understanding cancer,” stated Christoph Lengauer, partner at Third Rock Ventures, and co-founder and chief innovation officer of Thrive. “Combining this knowledge with the latest in molecular testing technologies, our founders have developed a simple and affordable blood test for the detection of many cancers at relatively early stages. We envision a future where routine preventative care includes a blood test for cancer, just as patients are now routinely tested for early stages of heart disease. We know that if cancer is caught early enough, it can often be cured.”

Thrive will be entering a field that is growing increasingly competitive. In October 2018, Guardant Health, which offers a liquid biopsy test, Guardant360, for advanced solid tumor cancers, launched an initial public offering, creating a $1.59 billion market valuation. Others in the space include Karius, which focuses on a liquid biopsy for infectious disease, and GRAIL Bio, which was launched by Illumina in January 2016. In 2017, Verily Life Sciences, one of Google/Alphabet’s companies, invested in Freenome, a liquid biopsy company.

Thrive is evaluating CancerSEEK in DETECT, a prospective study in 10,000 healthy people in collaboration with Geisinger. The company also plans to run more clinical trials to create data to support regulatory approvals, inclusion in cancer screening guidelines and reimbursement strategies.

CancerSEEK gained Breakthrough Device designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for genetic mutations and proteins associated with pancreatic and ovarian cancers.

“To be truly useful to patients, new medical technology must be developed with rigorous evidence and designed to be affordable and readily integrated into routine medical care,” stated Steven J. Kafka, partner at Third Rock and chief executive officer of Thrive. “With the help of experts and strategic partners, Thrive is launching today to advance a novel test for the earlier detection of multiple cancers, which we aim to augment with an integrated service that helps patients maneuver the often confusing path that follows a cancer diagnosis.”

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