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.

Isaac Ro

“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.

David J Daly

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.”

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Pfiz­er's big block­buster Xel­janz flunks its post-mar­ket­ing safe­ty study, re­new­ing harsh ques­tions for JAK class

When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

One of the most am­bi­tious start­up teams in biotech just out­lined plans for a $400M IPO and a val­u­a­tion of about $4B

The executive team at Sana Biotechnology has sketched out more details about the full scope of its ambitions as the new unicorn to watch. They amended their S-1 today to include a price range of $20 to $23 a share — which puts them in reach of pulling in around $400 million on the high end with a market value starting right around $4 billion.

That’s not bad for a preclinical biotech with no drugs yet in human studies, but it squares with its ambitions to remake the cell therapy field with a slate of in-house platforms. The biotech raised $705 million — primarily from ARCH (44 million shares) and Flagship (34.2 million shares) — to get to this stage.

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Top gene ther­a­py deals, M&A pacts in 2020 high­light an­oth­er big year in one of the hottest fields in bio­phar­ma

Chris Dokomajilar at DealForma has been crunching the numbers on gene therapy deals over the last 2 years and came away with a few key observations.

Both the upfront cash and deal totals last year backed off a bit from the record high hit in 2019, but the totals are still running well ahead of anything we’ve seen in the years prior to 2019/2020.
2020 R&D partnerships came in at 23 deals, with $1.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $8.5 billion in total deal value. Looking at 2019-2020 M&A, Dokomajilar found: 9 Acquisitions, with over $11.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $13.4 billion in total M&A value.

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Bob Nelsen (Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

ARCH an­nounces largest fund yet, rais­ing $1.85B to back men­tal health, cell and gene edit­ing ap­proach­es

Nearly a year ago, as the pandemic encroached and the stock market cratered, Flagship and ARCH Venture announced three mega-funds worth a combined $2.6 billion. They wanted, ARCH’s Bob Nelsen said, to restore confidence “that there was money out there and a lot of it” to invest in biotech.

Since then, the stock market has returned — almost frighteningly so — and Nelsen has kept raising and spending cash. On Thursday, he announced a new fund, worth $1.85 billion. It’s the largest pot yet for a VC famous for its deep pockets.

Glax­o­SmithK­line moves malar­ia vac­cine pro­duc­tion to In­dia; Nevakar bags Eu­ro­pean part­ner and nine-fig­ure deal

GSK is shifting production of its malaria vaccine to a Covid-19 vaccine developer in India.

Wednesday’s move to Bharat Biotech was made as part of efforts to battle the deadly fever, as GSK’s vaccine is the first to prove effective in combating the disease. Bharat will take over manufacturing of the protein part of the vaccine while GSK continues developing the adjuvant portion of the shot.

The vaccine is currently being piloted in regions of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi under the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program. More than 500,000 children have received the first dose since the pilots were initiated by the three countries in 2019.

Lil­ly at­tempts to re­vive an old idea for tack­ling pain, li­cens­ing PhI pro­gram from Japan’s Asahi Ka­sei Phar­ma

Eli Lilly is fronting some new cash in a space they’re quite familiar with.

The company is partnering with Japan’s Asahi Kasei Pharma on an experimental drug for chronic pain, acquiring the rights for the P2X7 receptor antagonist program dubbed AK1780. Lilly will shell out a pretty penny for the program, promising up to $410 million total should each milestone payment come to pass.

Asahi Kasei will receive an upfront sum of $20 million for the candidate. In addition, Lilly is on the hook for up to $210 million in development and regulatory milestones and another potential $180 million in sales milestones. Asahi Kasei can also obtain royalties ranging from the mid-single to low-double digits should an approved product come out of the deal.

Ther­mo Fish­er plat­form seeks to ex­pe­dite donor cell cul­ti­va­tion for al­lo­gene­ic cell ther­a­pies

One of the world’s leading CDMOs has launched a new technology it says will expedite a quickly-growing sect of biotech drug development: off-the-shelf, allogeneic cell therapies.

It’s been nearly a decade since the FDA approved the first use of the method that uses healthy donor cells to create a master cell bank, which is then used for specific therapies — a cord blood allogeneic treatment called Hemacord. In the years since, the use of allogeneic cells has taken off in research circles, most notably in the use of T cell therapies to target solid tumor cancers.

Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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