Strata raises $12M, teams with Thermo Fisher for cancer trial enrollment push

Strata Oncology has raised $12 million and teamed up with Thermo Fisher Scientific ($TMO) to embark on a campaign to sequence the tumors of 100,000 cancer patients for free. The large-scale, no-cost tumor sequencing initiative is seen by Strata as a way to increase the number of cancer patients who are molecularly matched to clinical trials.

Currently, many cancer patients never have their tumors sequenced, leaving them unaware of their eligibility for trials of precision medicines. For developers of drugs designed for patients with specific mutations, this lack of knowledge shrinks the pool of potential participants their studies can tap into and, in doing so, lengthens the time it takes to fully enroll trials. Given the intense competition for cancer patients in certain indications and the value of shaving even weeks off development times, a system that can address the bottleneck is potentially attractive to drug developers.

That is the idea underpinning the founding of Strata, an Ann Arbor, MI-based startup that has set up shop to bridge the gap between patients and clinical research sponsors. The concept and the team behind it have persuaded Arboretum Ventures and Baird Capital to co-lead a $12 million Series A round with support from existing investor Michigan eLab. And Strata has gained access to the tools it will need to carry out its sequencing campaign through a deal with Thermo Fisher, which is providing the startup with Ion S5 XL NGS systems, AmpliSeq technology and Oncomine assays.

The Thermo Fisher deal reconnects Strata CEO and co-founder Dan Rhodes with his former employer. Prior to setting up Strata, Rhodes worked as VP of oncology strategy at Thermo Fisher, a position he moved into as the result of two acquisitions. Rhodes last startup, Compendia Bioscience, was bought by Life Technologies, which struck the deal to gain access to the Oncomine technology Strata will use. Thermo Fisher then bought Life Technologies. Peter Wyngaard, the ex-CTO of Compendia, has joined Rhodes on the journey, resulting in him taking up the post of head of informatics at Strata.

Having persuaded investors and colleagues to buy into the idea behind Strata, Rhodes must now get drug developers and healthcare providers to commit. Strata is aiming to sign up 50 clinical sites that will gain access to free tumor sequencing for their patients. And it is seeking biopharma companies that are developing drugs targeting mutations in an alphabet soup of genes, namely ALK, AKT1, BRCA1/2, BRAF, EGFR, ERBB2/3, EZH2, FGFR1-4, IDH1/2, KRAS, MAP2K1, MET, NTRK1-3, ROS1 and RET. These companies will gain access to a new source of mutation-matched patients for their trials.

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