Freenome, one of the rivals racing to detect the earliest signs of cancer through blood tests, announced Wednesday it has raised $160 million in a Series B funding round.
The money boosts Freenome’s fundraising total to $238 million. It’s a boon for the South San Francisco startup founded in 2014, but not an unusual haul for competitors in the same field, where the tantalizing promise of a simple test to find cancer sooner, when it is much easier to treat, has emerged from advances in DNA sequencing, sophisticated data crunching, and the understanding of cancer biology.
The payoff for success in would be an accurate liquid biopsy—a blood test that spots early changes in the mix of biological molecules circulating in a person’s blood, a signal that cancer has begun to take hold somewhere in the body. Such a screening test for outwardly healthy people could lead to earlier treatment and better chances of survival.
Liquid biopsies could also replace the need for invasive tissue biopsies, which carry their own medical risks, not to mention painful effects.
But a successful blood test must show a low rate of false positives, which can expose a healthy person who does not have cancer to unnecessary treatment.
Investors have poured money into an array of companies pushing for that optimal kind of test, and Freenome belongs to a prominent Bay Area cluster of such contenders.
Menlo Park, CA-based Grail, which reaped $300 million in a Series C funding round last year, has raised a total of more than $1.5 billion since 2016. Redwood City, CA-based Guardant Health (NASDAQ: GH) raised $237.5 million from its initial public offering in October.
A newcomer to the field, Cambridge, MA-based startup Thrive Earlier Detection, made its debut in May with a $110 million Series A fundraising round to advance a test first developed at Johns Hopkins University.
Freenome’s test, like that of Thrive, analyzes a blood sample not just for DNA shed by cancer cells but also for proteins that could be additional cancer biomarkers. Any of the biological molecules Freenome detects could originate in tumor cells, or could come from the person’s immune system responding to the onset of cancer, the company says. Freenome uses advanced data analysis and machine learning software to identify the billions of signature patterns and combinations among these blood-borne molecules that occur in various types of cancer.
Freenome plans to use its fresh cash to launch a study that screens patients for colorectal cancer, with the goal of proving its test is worthy of regulatory approval. The company will also use the funds to further develop its testing system and software, and to expand its laboratories.
The company’s Series B financing was led by new investors RA Capital and Polaris Partners. Other new investors were Perceptive Advisors, Roche Venture Fund, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, the American Cancer Society’s BrightEdge Ventures, and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates. Previous investors joining the round included Andreessen Horowitz, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Data Collective Venture Capital, and Verily Life Sciences (formerly Google Life Sciences).
Amir Nashat of Polaris Partners will join Freenome’s board of directors as a voting member. Peter Kolchinsky of RA Capital will join the board as an observer.
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