Biotechnology / Roundups / Universities / Venture capital

Johns Hopkins-founded startup developing blood test to detect cancer raises $110M

The Series A funding round for Thrive Earlier Detection Corp. is the largest ever for a company licensing technology out of the university. The company will base R&D in Baltimore.

Inside Johns Hopkins' FastForward 1812. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

A company developing a cancer test that’s designed to be integrated into routine medical care is launching Thursday with the largest funding round for a venture licensing technology from Johns Hopkins.

Thrive Earlier Detection Corp., which was founded out of JHU’s Bert Vogelstein Laboratory, raised $110 million in a Series A round.

The company is commercializing a test called CancerSEEK, which was developed by noted cancer researchers and scientific cofounders Drs. Bert Vogelstein, Kenneth Kinzler and Nickolas Papadopoulos. The blood test takes measurements of a specific set of DNA and proteins to detect multiple types of cancer. The test would be part of routine screenings, allowing for earlier detection of cancer, according to the company. Over time, the company will also integrate data and machine learning to improve and expand the test.

“We envision a future where routine preventive care includes a blood test for cancer, just as patients are now routinely tested for early stages of heart disease,” Vogelstein said in a statement. “Such testing does not have to be a scary, expensive, or complicated process. We know that if cancer is caught early enough, it often can be cured.”

The company’s launch and funding round marks a “milestone moment” for the development of Johns Hopkins’ biotech community, said Christy Wyskiel, head of Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures.

Thrive’s test shows promise to have far-reaching effects on health.

“This technology will have tangible impact on human health. If you can catch cancer early, fewer people will die. It’s as simple as that,” Wyskiel said.

It will also be among tech companies founded out of local universities that are operating in the city. While the company’s executive team is based in Massachusetts, it will maintain all R&D operations in Baltimore. With 25 employees initially, it’s taken about 18,000 square feet of space at 1812 Ashland Ave., which is the home of JHTV and and located at the university’s medical campus in East Baltimore.

Along with CancerSEEK itself, the company licensed DNA sequencing technology and biomarker technology from the university. A study of the test that enrolled 10,000 healthy individuals is also underway, led by researchers at the JHU School of Medicine.

“We are extremely pleased that Baltimore will continue to be the scientific backbone of the company,” Wyskiel said. “Being proximate to the Vogelstein lab is key to the success of the company, and we have great resources in East Baltimore to house continued product development.”

The funding round is also eye-catching. It would be a sizable dollar figure for Baltimore, even before considering the fact that it’s a record for JHU.

Boston-based Third Rock Ventures led the round, with participation from Section32, Casdin Capital, Biomatics Capital, BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, The Invus Group, Exact Sciences and Cowin Venture, as well as Baltimore-based firms including Camden Partners and Gamma 3 LLC. The startup’s leadership includes Third Rock team members including Steven J. Kafka, who is now the company’s CEO.

“Venture firms are extremely scrutinizing, so when you see big dollars like this, it signals a big bet on the science,” Wyskiel said. “In this case, Third Rock is placing a big bet on Johns Hopkins technology. Our level of science deserves that level of attention.”

Companies: Johns Hopkins University

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