After years of running trials for other drugmakers, TrialSpark is building its own pipeline
TrialSpark, one of several companies launched specifically to address the “mournful” cost of clinical development, now has $156 million more to work with — and with it, CEO Benjamine Liu has big plans to move into drug development.
The biotech unicorn — valued at more than $1 billion — unveiled a hefty Series C round on Thursday, led by tech investors Sam Altman and Lachy Groom. Liu says he’ll use those funds to build a pipeline, either by acquiring or partnering on assets. The rest will go toward expanding the New York-based team, and investing in other companies with promising candidates.
The goal is to build a “tech company that’s doing biopharma, not a biopharma company doing tech,” Altman told Bloomberg.
TrialSpark was launched in 2016 by Liu, a Yale and Oxford-trained computational biologist, and CTO Linhao Zhang, a Salesforce and Oscar Health veteran. A JAMA study determined that around that time, the median cost of a clinical trial was around $19 million, with the priciest trials costing as much as $345 million.
Since its launch, TrialSpark has built a clinical trial platform that uses software to help trial sites manage studies and collect data. In 2019, the company joined forces with 23andMe, in the hopes of using its extensive database and research platform to speed up the patient recruitment process.
“TrialSpark has already made significant efforts toward expanding access to clinical trials by creating sites where patients live and with doctors they already see. With 23andMe we can empower even more patients to access clinical trials at their local doctor’s office,” Liu said at the time, adding that some data and endpoints could be captured with wearable technology, digital therapeutics, or at-home genetic testing with 23andMe.
The company claims it can enroll patients nearly twice as fast as traditional approaches, and shrink development timelines by 50%.
While it remains unclear what targets TrialSpark is looking to pursue in-house, the company says it has an eye for candidates that would “sit on shelves due to the prohibitive cost and duration of traditional clinical trials.”
A slate of new and old investors chipped into the latest round, including Sequoia Capital, Thrive Capital, Casdin Capital, Dragoneer, Section 32, John Doerr, Spark Capital, Felicis Ventures, Sound Ventures and Arrowmark, among other unnamed investors.
“When we first met, Benjamine was clear about the journey he wanted to embark upon,” Sequoia Capital’s Michael Moritz said in a statement. “Nothing has changed. TrialSpark has scaled the foothills and the assault on the summit has begun.”