Third Rock un­veils liq­uid biop­sy biotech, lead­ing $110M bet it can Thrive in ear­ly can­cer de­tec­tion

Can­cer is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death glob­al­ly — the ear­li­er it is de­tect­ed, the bet­ter shot pa­tients have of bounc­ing back. Re­searchers have long pur­sued a min­i­mal­ly-in­va­sive, ef­fec­tive test to ex­pose ear­ly mark­ers of the of­ten dead­ly dis­ease, and weeks ago Grail blue­print­ed its strat­e­gy for its blood test for ear­ly can­cer de­tec­tion. On Thurs­day, Third Rock Ven­tures un­veiled its shot at that lofty goal, with the launch of a liq­uid biop­sy com­pa­ny that has raised a meaty $110 mil­lion in its first round.

The com­pa­ny, apt­ly named Thrive Ear­li­er De­tec­tion, is bet­ting on Can­cerSEEK — its blood test-in-de­vel­op­ment de­signed to sniff out eight com­mon can­cer types by in­ter­ro­gat­ing ge­nom­ic mu­ta­tions in cir­cu­lat­ing tu­mor DNA (ctD­NA) as well as pro­tein mark­ers in plas­ma that have been im­pli­cat­ed in can­cer.

“It’s great to be part of an area, where (…) we could do for can­cer what 50 years ago we did for heart dis­ease, when we start­ed screen­ing for high blood pres­sure for ex­am­ple,” said Steven Kaf­ka, Thrive CEO and part­ner at Third Rock Ven­tures, in an in­ter­view with End­points News ahead of the an­nounce­ment.

Can­cerSEEK is en­gi­neered to not on­ly be pow­ered to iden­ti­fy the pres­ence of rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly can­cer, but us­es ma­chine learn­ing to lo­cal­ize the or­gan of ori­gin of the can­cer — even­tu­al­ly, the hope is the test will be used as part of the ar­se­nal of rou­tine med­ical screen­ing tools, to com­ple­ment ex­ist­ing dis­ease-spe­cif­ic screen­ing meth­ods such as mam­mog­ra­phy and colonoscopy.

In a ret­ro­spec­tive study, en­com­pass­ing 1,005 pa­tients with non-metasta­t­ic, clin­i­cal­ly de­tect­ed can­cers of the ovary, liv­er, stom­ach, pan­creas, esoph­a­gus, col­orec­tum, lung, or breast pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence last year, Can­cerSEEK tests were pos­i­tive in a me­di­an of 70% of the eight can­cer types.

Da­ta showed the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the test ranged from 69% to 98% for the de­tec­tion of five can­cer types — ovary, liv­er, stom­ach, pan­creas, and esoph­a­gus — for which there are no screen­ing tests avail­able for av­er­age-risk in­di­vid­u­als. Mean­while, the abil­i­ty of the test to hone in on the or­gan of can­cer ori­gin was > 99% — al­though 7 out of 812 healthy con­trols scored pos­i­tive. In ad­di­tion, Can­cerSEEK lo­cal­ized the can­cer to a small num­ber of anatom­ic sites in a me­di­an of 83% of the pa­tients.

Af­ter da­ta from the Can­cerSEEK study was pub­lished, Sci­ence writer Derek Lowe sug­gest­ed there was room for im­prove­ment, but it con­sti­tut­ed a good start. “The big­ger prob­lem is if you’re go­ing to use this test for ear­ly de­tec­tion: when the team looked at the de­tec­tion rates ad­just­ed for the stage of the di­ag­nosed tu­mors, Can­cerSEEK turned out to on­ly catch 43% of the Stage I cas­es over­all,” he wrote in a post.


Im­age: Bert Vo­gel­stein THRIVE

Can­cerSEEK has been grant­ed the FDA’s break­through de­vice sta­tus, as has Grail’s mul­ti-can­cer de­tec­tion blood test, which re­lies on DNA se­quenc­ing to as­sess methy­la­tion, an epi­ge­net­ic change across the genome to ex­pose can­cer sig­nals.

Ken­neth Kin­zler Johns Hop­kins

Grail, which was spun out of DNA se­quenc­ing com­pa­ny Il­lu­mi­na $ILMN in 2016, has raised $1.6 bil­lion in fund­ing to fu­el the de­vel­op­ment of its test, which is now be­ing eval­u­at­ed in three large-scale stud­ies that will al­to­geth­er en­roll 165,000 in­di­vid­u­als.

Nick­o­las Pa­padopou­los Johns Hop­kins

Thrive — which was found­ed by three can­cer re­searchers Bert Vo­gel­stein, Ken­neth Kin­zler and Nick­o­las Pa­padopou­los at Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty — is al­so eval­u­at­ing Can­cerSEEK in a large prospec­tive study. The tri­al, called DE­TECT, has en­rolled 10,000 healthy women aged be­tween 65 and 75 with­out pri­or can­cer his­to­ry.

Da­ta from DE­TECT should be avail­able some­time next year, Kaf­ka said.

“We have a goal of it (Can­cerSEEK) be­ing in the hun­dreds of dol­lars, com­mer­cial­ly, not thou­sands of dol­lars… sin­gle dis­ease tests like (Ex­act Sci­ence’s) Co­lo­guard are list priced at $600 or $700, a mam­mog­ra­phy costs $100 to $200 and if you think of those as the guard rail — we have a mul­ti can­cer test that al­ready we be­lieve is per­form­ing with­in that lev­el of cost.” he added.

Third Rock Ven­tures led the $110 mil­lion Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing, with par­tic­i­pa­tion from Sec­tion32, Cas­din Cap­i­tal, Bio­mat­ics Cap­i­tal, Blue­Cross BlueShield Ven­ture Part­ners, The In­vus Group, Ex­act Sci­ences $EXAS, Cowin Ven­ture, Cam­den Part­ners, Gam­ma 3 LLC and oth­ers.

Oth­er com­pa­nies such as Guardant Health and Bio­cept are al­so work­ing on their own liq­uid biop­sy tests. Each com­pa­ny is look­ing to cham­pi­on con­sis­ten­cy and ac­cu­ra­cy — false pos­i­tives in­duce un­nec­es­sary anx­i­ety, and are cost­ly. An­oth­er con­cern is of course, pri­va­cy.


Im­age: Steven Kaf­ka THRIVE

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Josh Cohen, Justin Klee

Armed with pos­i­tive ALS da­ta, Amy­lyx scores $30M in fresh fund­ing to com­plete Alzheimer's PhII

Four years after announcing themselves to the biotech world with a new idea for drugging neurodegeneration, backing by the late Henri Termeer and $5 million from Morningside Venture, the young entrepreneurs at Amylyx are back for round 2.

Morningside continued to lead the $30 million Series B, with participation from Termeer’s widow, Belinda, and other unnamed investors. Having celebrated a topline Phase II win for its lead program in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Amylyx expects the cash to fund talks with regulators as well as a separate trial for the same drug in Alzheimer’s — for which they had just finished enrolling.

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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