Merck and Pfizer back a Michigan startup's mission to advance tumor profiling
Dan Rhodes was leading cancer sequencing at Thermo Fisher Scientific when he noticed that, despite the rush of pharma companies developing targeted therapies, most patients weren’t getting the right testing — and therefore missing out on what could be the best treatments based on their specific tumor profile.
In 2015, he set out to change that. With the support of Thermo Fisher executives and the help of a couple experts in the field, Rhodes launched Strata Oncology to advance DNA and RNA sequencing. The team has since attracted some impressive backers, including both Pfizer and Merck. And on Wednesday, they unveiled a $90 million Series C round to build out a commercial team and fuel clinical trials for new RNA-based treatment selection tests.
“Our mission is to deliver the best possible treatment to each patient with cancer as early as possible,” Rhodes told Endpoints News.
Tumor profiling begins with a sample of tumor tissue, from which Strata can sequence DNA and RNA to look for mutations known to play a role in cancer. They’re especially looking for mutations that are already targetable by existing or investigational therapies. The whole process takes about seven business days, and the idea is to give the patient the critical information they need by their first follow-up visit.
“It’s really these RNA products that really set Strata apart,” Rhodes said, adding that sequencing companies have historically focused on DNA. That, and the fact that the company’s first tumor profiling test, StrataNGS, requires just a small amount of tissue — just a square 2 mm.
“What we see in the real world is upwards of half of samples are smaller than the tissue requirements for other leading tests,” he said, adding that the researchers should be able to do DNA and quantitative RNA testing simultaneously from the same small tissue sample.
Some of the Series C funds will also go toward the company’s blood-based recurrent monitoring tests, where the idea is to move precision treatment selection from late-stage advanced cancer to earlier stages by detecting cancer that’s destined to recur.
After profiling a tumor, Strata can help connect patients to clinical trials that might suit them, through a network of pharmas working on precision medicines.
“For us the testing that we do, while that’s our main business, it’s really a means to that more important end of getting the right treatment,” Rhodes said. “This is really a win-win: The health systems in our network gain access to these cutting-edge clinical trials, and the pharmas gain access to this network of health systems where the majority of patients have been tested with Strata. We’ve got data on the biomarker profiles and can then really facilitate consideration of patient screening and enrollment into these pharma trials.”
Wellington Management led the round, with a hand from Cormorant Asset Management, Monashee Investment Management, Highside Capital Management, Pfizer Ventures, Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, Arboretum Ventures, Deerfield Management, Baird Capital and Renaissance Venture Capital Fund. The new cash brings Strata’s total raise to over $130 million.
When asked if an IPO is on the horizon, Rhodes said it’s “ likely in the future for us,” though noted he has nothing definitive to announce.
“We’re looking at sort of late ‘22 maybe early ‘23, but this round of funding sort of carries us through to an IPO,” he said.