'We want to be everywhere.' Mission Bio raises $70M behind resistance-hunting sequencing platform
Charlie Silver wants to look really, really closely at a lot of your cells. And he just got a lot of money to do so.
Silver’s startup, Mission Bio, raised $70 million in a Series C round Thursday led by Novo Holdings. The money, which brings Mission Bio to $120 million raised since its 2012 founding, will be used to advance the single-cell sequencing platform they built to detect early response or resistance to new cancer therapies.
“We want this everywhere,” Silver told Endpoints News. “Everywhere where therapy resistance is important — and it’s important for most of oncology.”
In the last few years, single-cell sequencing technology has become ubiquitous in biomedical research. It’s allowed researchers to zoom into what’s unfolding in an individual cell, as opposed to blending multiple cells together and getting an average, as previous sequencing methods have required.
Much of that work, though, has been through RNA sequencing, also known as RNA-Seq. A quick PubMed for RNA-Seq search turns up over 10,000 papers since the start of 2019. This year alone, it’s been used to profile the human antibody response, compare mouse and human brains, and even to see if you can get a portrait of someone’s microbiome out of their sperm.
Much of the work, though, has come in cancer, where cell heterogeneity — or the variety of different cells and mutations — can offer key clues about how cancer arises, develops, responds to and resists therapy. There, Silver said, Mission Bio has an advantage by focusing on DNA rather than RNA. They’re not the only DNA-Seq platform, but he claims “we are the only ones that do single-cell DNA at every scale, from single mutation, copy number through the whole chromosome” and the only ones that can link that DNA snapshot to the proteins on the cells.
“We took our platform and basically purpose-built it for pharma,” Silver said. “The combination of DNA and protein together tends to be exactly what pharma needs for drug development, because you can link together the mutation you’re trying to drug, along with the pathway that you can now link together with protein.”
So far, Mission Bio has tested the platform with a handful of small biotechs, such as Agios and Agilent Technologies, and cancer centers such as MD Anderson. They claim to have unnamed partnerships with Big Pharma as well.
The idea, Silver said, is to give researchers tools to see earlier whether a patient is responding to a therapy or evolving resistance to a therapy. That could in theory then shorten development time, allowing companies to abort doomed trials or weed people with the wrong molecular profile out, making sure only those most likely to respond to the therapy are studied.
In a paper in Blood in March, MD Anderson researchers used the platform to discover tiny pockets of cancer cells with rare mutations that limited patients’ response to the acute myeloid leukemia drug Venclexta. In May, in Blood Advances, researchers at Agios used it to find new resistance mechanisms to their AML drug Tibsovo.
“Thorough cataloging of resistance mechanisms to targeted therapies has proven invaluable in the development of next-generation therapies, such as second- and third-generation inhibitors of BCR-ABL, EGFR, and ALK,” the researchers noted, “and in the development of efficacious combination therapies such as BRAF-MEK dual inhibition in melanoma.”
In addition to finding new cancer partners for their platform, Silver said they were also going to use the Series C funding to push into gene and cell therapy. Mission’s platform, he said, could help characterize how successfully cells have been edited.
“We’re really expanding,” he said.