Google’s Verily builds lab for cancer-testing startup 

Google
Verily, formerly known as Google Life Sciences, wants to collaborate with Freenome

Verily has built a lab on its South San Francisco campus for cancer-testing startup Freenome, CNBC reports. The subsidiary of Google’s parent company designed the lab to Freenome’s specifications to foster collaboration after quietly participating in its $65 million financing round in March.

Freenome and its 40 employees have now moved into the lab. Verily framed the decision to build a lab on its campus for the cancer-testing startup as a way to encourage collaboration between the company’s respective teams. The Alphabet subsidiary is working in fields adjacent to that focused on by Freenome in its attempt to improve the prevention, detection and management of disease.

Establishing a relationship with Verily gives Freenome a powerful, well-resourced ally as it seeks to establish itself in the nascent liquid biopsy field in the face of competition from bigger rivals. Freenome is going up against Grail, the Illumina spinout that raised about $1 billion to run a huge clinical trial of its cancer detection technology. That makes the $65 million Freenome raised last time around look relatively meager, although the round nonetheless positioned the company to trial its tests.

Freenome is developing tests of lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. The tests emerged from the computer-based analysis of all the genetic material in blood samples. The approach adopted by Freenome overlaps with Verily’s tech-enabled take on healthcare. 

“Through machine learning, we have discovered signatures independent of traditional mutation calling, such as immunological and metabolic changes in cell-free DNA and other analytes, that are more robust for early cancer detection, which allows for a cost-effective assay,” Freenome CEO Gabe Otte said at the time of the $65 million financing round. 

Freenome is yet to show it and its tests can deliver on this promise. And, like Verily, the startup has encountered scepticism about its ability to do so. Inconsistent statements about whether Otte has a Ph.D. or not exacerbated the situation. But throughout its short life Freenome has sought to distance itself from the specter of Theranos by promising to publish peer-reviewed papers.