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

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; and more

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With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Ma­gen­ta halts stem cell work and may sell it­self fol­low­ing pa­tient death, clin­i­cal hold

Magenta Therapeutics said it is halting work on its stem cell transplant drug pipeline and may sell itself, a week after the company reported the death of a patient in an early stage trial of its antibody-drug conjugate.

The Cambridge, MA-based company said it will conduct a “review of strategic alternatives,” and that could include an “acquisition, merger, business combination, or other transaction.”

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Te­va drops out of in­dus­try trade group PhRMA

Following in AbbVie’s footsteps, Teva confirmed on Friday that it’s dropping out of the industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Teva didn’t give a reason for its decision to leave, saying only in a statement to Endpoints News that it annually reviews “effectiveness and value of engagements, consultants and memberships to ensure our investments are properly seated.”

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Sanofi CFO Jean-Baptiste de Chatillon (L) and CEO Paul Hudson (Romuald Meigneux/Sipa via AP Images)

Sanofi sees downtick in flu sales as it preps for launch of RSV an­ti­body

Sanofi expects its RSV antibody jointly developed with AstraZeneca will be available next season, executive VP of vaccines Thomas Triomphe announced on the company’s quarterly call.

Beyfortus, also known as nirsevimab, was approved in the EU back in November and is currently under FDA review with an expected decision coming in the third quarter of this year. The news comes as the FDA plans to hold advisory committee meetings over the next couple months to review RSV vaccines from Pfizer and GSK.

Christophe Weber, Takeda CEO (Photographer: Shoko Takayasu/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Take­da fo­cus­es on ‘di­verse’ pipeline prospects on heels of two ac­qui­si­tions

After a whopping $4 billion asset buy from Nimbus Therapeutics, along with a $400 million deal with Hutchmed for a colorectal cancer drug, Takeda executives touted pipeline optimism on its latest earnings call this week.

That’s because the TYK2 inhibitor for psoriasis Takeda is getting from Nimbus, along with the Hutchmed fruquintinib commercialization outside of China, are just two of what it reports are 10 late-stage development programs of promising candidates.