Laser-focused on colorectal cancer test, Freenome wins $160M from marquee VC pack led by RA, Polaris
Days after closing RA Capital’s new $300 million fund dedicated to biotech startups, Peter Kochinsky is taking the wraps off a mega-round for cancer detection player Freenome.
RA Capital, where he is managing partner, has led the $160 million Series B with Polaris Partners, an investor from the prior $65 million round. Andreessen Horowitz, GV, Data Collective Venture Capital, Section 32 and Verily all came back for more, while new members were added to the well-heeled syndicate: Perceptive Advisors, Roche Venture Fund, Kaiser Permanente Ventures and the American Cancer Society’s BrightEdge Ventures, and T. Rowe Price Associates.
“The most affordable and effective treatment for metastatic cancer is to detect it early, when the tumor is still small and local, and we can cure it with surgery. It’s with that vision that we have invested in Freenome,” Kolchinsky said in a statement. “Freenome’s multiomics platform is unlike anything we’ve seen, and we believe it can unlock the promise of using blood tests to detect and treat cancer early.”
By multiomics Freenome means an integration of assays for cell-free DNA, methylation, and proteins, on which it layers computational biology and machine learning techniques to identify early signs of cancer. In addition to traditional tumor-derived markers, the platform also searches for immune-derived signatures.
The South San Francisco-based biotech will channel the new funding toward a pivotal validation study of its blood-based test in colorectal cancer, a deadly predicament with a 14% five-year survival rate when detected at a more advanced stage. Detecting it early can drastically drive up the survival rate to 90%, according to Freenome.
Ultimately, the vision is to incorporate their cancer screening method into routine patient care, CEO Gabe Otte said in a statement.
He’s raised $238 million to date for that mission. But Freenome is not alone: Grail has raised $1.5 billion to work on a multi-cancer detection test; Third Rock helped launch its own $110 million startup to build on a technology known as CancerSEEK. It will also go up against Exact Science’s colon cancer screening test, already on the market.
Focusing on one single cancer type in order to win over payers, Otte told TechCrunch, will be key to Freenome’s commercial prospects.
“The biggest hurdle [to a company’s success] is reimbursement,” he said. “We’re talking about Medicare coverage is going to be no more than $500… so a test needs to be significantly under $500 mark to make a significant business. [That means it] has to have clinical utility. That’s why colorectal cancer is the right move for us… payers are going to be amenable to a test like ours. It’s a big hurdle to generate enough data over enough time to show that your test results in a better patient outcome.”