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Liquid Biopsy Screening Start-Up Launches, Gains $110M

Blood sample tubes


30 May 2019. A new enterprise is starting up, developing early-stage cancer screening with a single blood test, based on research at Johns Hopkins University. Thrive Earlier Detection Corp. in Baltimore, Maryland and Cambridge, Massachusetts is also raising $110 million in its first venture funding round.

Thrive Earlier Detection is a spin-off enterprise from the labs of cancer researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Research by medical school professors Bert Vogelstein, Kenneth Kinzler, and Nickolas Papadopoulos shows an analysis of a patient’s blood sample can reveal indicators of 8 solid tumor cancers in their early stage, before they metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body:  ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colorectum, lung, and breast.

Findings published in the journal Science in February 2018 show their test accurately detects 70 percent of these tumors in in half or more of 1,005 patients with these types of cancer that had not yet begun to metastasize. Moreover, the test accurately finds between 69 to 98 percent of early-stage ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, and esophagus cancer, for which there are no current screening tests. And with 812 healthy volunteers, their test accurately found no signs of cancer in virtually all, more than 99 percent, of the participants.

The researchers call their test CancerSeek, which detects 16 tumor-signature mutations in DNA and 11 associated proteins circulating in an individual’s blood. Thrive Earlier Detection has an exclusive license from Johns Hopkins to commercialize CancerSeek, and plans to further develop, gain regulatory approval, and market the test for routine health screening, for example as part of an individual’s annual check-up. The company also plans to package CancerSeek testing as part of an advisory service for health care providers that integrates and explains the meaning of its results in the context of an individual’s health history.

Vogelstein, Kinzler, and Papadopoulos are the scientific founders of Thrive Earlier Detection, along with Christoph Lengauer, a partner at Third Rock Ventures, a science and technology venture capital company in Boston that formed the company. Steven Kafka, also a partner at Third Rock Ventures, is Thrive’s CEO.

Lengauer notes in a company statement that, “our founders have developed a simple and affordable blood test for the detection of many cancers at relatively early stage. 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.”

Johns Hopkins and the Geisinger health system in Pennsylvania are testing CancerSeek in a clinical trial with 10,000 women age 65 to 75 with no prior history of cancer. Participants are asked to provide 2 blood samples and complete 3 surveys over 5 years, as well as take whole-body PET and CT imaging if any cancer indicators show up in the blood tests. Thrive says FDA already designated CancerSeek as a “breakthrough device” for detection of mutations and proteins associated with pancreatic and ovarian cancer.

Third Rock led the first round of venture financing for Thrive Earlier Detection that raised $110 million. Joining in the round are the venture arms of cancer diagnostics company Exact Sciences and health insurance organizations BlueCross BlueShield. Also taking part are Invus, Cowin Venture, Camden Partners, Gamma 3 LLC, and others.

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