Test results in hand, Thrive raises $257M to push liquid biopsy toward approval
Three months after announcing the results of a landmark trial, Thrive Earlier Detection has raised $257 million to put their liquid biopsy cancer test into a pivotal trial.
Thrive started raising for the Series B immediately after the study results were published in Science at the end of April. That study, run across 10,000 women at the Geisinger Health System, showed for the first time that a blood test could help doctors diagnose certain types of cancer in patients who did not yet show symptoms, more than doubling the percentage of cancers that were detected.
“We wanted that data in hand as a big catalyst to drive the process,” Thrive CFO Isaac Ro told Endpoints.
The round, led by Casdin Capital and Section 32, will go into completing development of that test this year, so it can then go into a pivotal trial — which would likely make it the first liquid biopsy test to do so. Thrive, though, is so far quiet on details, saying they’re still waiting to hear from the FDA what the standards will be for approval. The company will also use funds to begin laying the groundwork for commercialization.
“The clinical trial piece is not trivial, it’s going to be a clinical undertaking,” Ro said. “It’s one of the reasons we raised how much we raised.”
Still, the round, though large, pales in comparison to the vast capital Thrive’s leading competitor, Grail, has raised in recent years. Backed most prominently by ARCH, that biotech has raised $2 billion since it was spun out of Illumina, including a $390 million Series D in the spring, although they remain behind Thrive in development. By contrast, Thrive, launched last May, had raised its $110 million Series A this year.
Without invoking Grail specifically, Ro told Endpoints that Thrive would be “one of the most capital-efficient companies out there.” More broadly, he argued that ultimately the field would have multiple winners, with the smattering of startups now at work narrowing into a few. “It’s going to be highly unlikely that this is going to be a winner-take-all market,” he said.
The field has come a long way since Theranos made liquid biopsy infamous — Ro said no investors mentioned the fallen unicorn — but outside experts caution it still has a ways to go. The tests, in many ways, face the same set of hurdles as the early Covid-19 antibody tests: How do you make it sensitive enough that it picks up the scant biological traces of early malignancy, while also being specific enough that false positives are at a tolerable minimum? It’s never great to incorrectly tell a person they have cancer.
Thrive may likely have to prove it can do both in its upcoming trial to win approval. The scant details they disclosed from the study plans include that, unlike the first trial, it will be across numerous hospital systems and it will include men.
Grail, meanwhile, is now conducting a study similar to the one Thrive published in April. The two biotechs use different technologies. Grail looks for slight changes to circular pieces of DNA in the blood, while Thrive looks for changes to particular genes and a handful of proteins.
CEO David Daly said he’s happy to see the competition.
“We actually welcome the investment that others are making,” Daly told Endpoints. “With so much focus and resources going into early detection, it’s an exciting time.”