UT, Aurora Health Join Strata Oncology’s Free Genomic Testing Network

Ann Arbor, MI’s Strata Oncology launched in 2015 with a mission to help bring free tumor sequencing to as many patients as possible. To help accomplish that mission, the genomics startup has established the Strata Precision Oncology Network, a group of cancer centers collaborating to help boost access to precision medicine.

Last month, Strata announced that the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston and Aurora Health Care, one of the largest healthcare systems in Wisconsin, have now joined its network. Dan Rhodes, Strata’s CEO, says that no money is changing hands as part of the new partnership deals.

“That’s the really wonderful thing about our offering to health systems,” Rhodes says. “They become precision medicine centers with no charge. We make money from pharmaceutical companies when we help enroll patients in clinical trials. We’ll be able to bill health insurance eventually, but today, we cover the cost [of sequencing] because it brings so much value to the pharma side of our business.”

Despite the significant promise of targeted therapies, genomic testing remains expensive because the tests are not yet widely covered by insurance and are often inaccessible to patients who don’t live near a major cancer center or clinical trial site, he adds. Strata started the precision testing network in 2016 to provide advanced cancerpatients with better access to tumor testing, thereby enabling connections between patients and biomarker-driven clinical trials sponsored by drug companies.

The facilities in Strata’s network—UTHealth, Aurora Health Care, Christiana Care’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute, Kaiser Permanente-Northern California, Kettering Health Network, Metro Minnesota Community Oncology Research Consortium, Ochsner Health System, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center—admit more than 85,000 new cancer patients annually, Rhodes says.

“We partner to systematize clinical research,” he says. “Genomic sequencing needs to become part of routine care. Every cancer patient should have their tumor sequenced; we’re trying to make that the norm. The neat thing with our partnerships is that they’re a nice mix of academic health systems and private systems that are eager to participate in clinical trials.”

Rhodes says he expects Strata to finalize a new round of investment capital later this month. (In 2016, the company raised $12 million in a Series A round of financing.) Strata is expecting a “really big year ahead” as it approaches an inflection point in genomic testing volume, he adds.

According to Rhodes, Strata’s current rate of genomic sequencing is about 100 tests per week, but that number is rapidly growing,” he says. “We’re very excited about this scale, because we need tens of thousands of tests per year to really make the business work.”

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