For more than 25 years the founders of Thrive Earlier Detection have been researching ways to improve the accuracy of liquid biopsy tests.
The fruits of that labor from Dr. Bert Vogelstein, Dr. Kenneth Kinzler and Dr. Nickolas Papadopoulos — all professors and researchers at Johns Hopkins University — is CancerSEEK, a liquid biopsy test that has demonstrated specificity of over 99% in a retrospective study published by Science earlier this year.
By minimizing false positives, in cancer screening tools and providing a test with proven accuracy doctors can take treatment actions earlier, which can lead to better survival rates for cancer patients.
Now, with FDA approval for its tests for pancreatic and ovarian cancer and a new study underway with a large healthcare provider, CancerSEEK is being rolled out to market through Thrive Earlier Detection with the help of a new $110 million round of funding.
Thrive works by analyzing highly targeted sets of DNA and proteins in the blood to detect cancer.
“Over the past 30 years we have made great strides in understanding cancer. Combining this knowledge with the latest in molecular testing technologies, our founders have developed a simple and affordable blood test for the detection of many cancers at relatively early stages,” said Christoph Lengauer, Ph.D., partner at Third Rock Ventures, and co-founder and chief innovation officer of Thrive, in a statement. “We envision a future where routine preventative care includes a blood test for cancer, just as patients are now routinely tested for early stages of heart disease. We know that if cancer is caught early enough, it can often be cured.”
As part of its rollout, the company’s screening tool is being evaluated in DETECT, a study of 10,000 currently healthy individuals that’s being conducted in conjunction with the healthcare organization Geisinger. So far, 10,000 women between the ages of 65 and 75 without a history of cancer have been enrolled in the trial.
“To be truly useful to patients, new medical technology must be developed with rigorous evidence and designed to be affordable and readily integrated into routine medical care,” said Steven J. Kafka, Ph.D., partner at Third Rock Ventures and chief executive officer of Thrive, said in a statement. “With the help of experts and strategic partners, Thrive is launching today to advance a novel test for the earlier detection of multiple cancers, which we aim to augment with an integrated service that helps patients maneuver the often confusing path that follows a cancer diagnosis.”
Third Rock Ventures actually led the Series A financing for Thrive, and comprise the bulk of the company’s executive team, while Kinzler and Papadopoulos — the researchers from Johns Hopkins who developed the technology — will have seats on the company’s board.
Other investors in the round include Bill Maris’ Section 32 investment firm, Casdin Capital, Biomatics Capital, BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, Invus, Exact Sciences, Cowin Venture, Camden Partners, Gamma 3 LLC and others.
According to Thrive, ovarian, pancreatic and liver cancers are difficult to detect because they can develop in pathways that aren’t always well understood.
Using CancerSEEK, Thrive hopes to develop a blood-based test that can be used in routine medical care, with the goal of identifying multiple cancer types at earlier stages.
The technology works by following genomic mutations in circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) and cancer-associated protein markers in plasma to identify abnormalities that are common across multiple cancers. In a retrospective study published by Science in 2018, CancerSEEK was shown to perform with greater than 99% specificity and with sensitivities ranging from 69% to 98% for the detection of five cancer types – ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreas and esophageal, which the company says are cancers for which there no screening tests available for average-risk individuals.
Thrive’s research has attracted an all-star executive team in addition to Lengauer and Kafka from Third Rock. Former Goldman Sachs lead medical technology analyst Isaac Ro is joining the company as chief financial officer, and the company’s head of research is Isaac Kinde, a co-inventor of the CancerSEEK technology.
It’s hard to overstate how transformative the Thrive test could prove to be. Having a blood-based diagnostic test for cancer prevalence and the ability to initiate treatment earlier radically improves the chances for surviving a cancer diagnosis.