Bill Gates helps genomic tests startup lay firm foundation

Genomic cancer test maker Foundation Medicine recently piqued the interest of Bill Gates as an investor--a golden ticket endorsement that shows that the small biotech not only has a product that could bring in a large financial return but could also transform healthcare, a key mission Gates has undertaken with his vast fortune.

Foundation's diagnostic test assesses individuals' DNA to determine cancer risk.--Courtesy of Foundation Medicine

Foundation was by no means hurting for investors--the Cambridge, MA, biotech had already garnered support from the likes of Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. But Gates' investment has given the company an even bigger boost.

In the company's most recent round of Series B financing, Gates' was among three investors who fronted a total of $13.5 million to the company, expanding the whole round of financing to $56 million.

Gates had heard about the company through Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute in Cambridge and a scientific founder of Foundation. Lander previously was a leader of the Human Genome Project.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Gates had originally sent Foundation CEO Michael Pellini email in September, seeking more information about the company.

Gates and Pellini's paths crossed at a CEO summit hosted by Kleiner Perkins, but the two did not talk about the possibility of Gates investing then, the WSJ reports. Months later, in November, Gates' team got in touch with Pellini, which ultimately led to Gates' investment.

Bill Gates invested in Foundation Medicine.--Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Already considered a novelty in cancer medicine, Foundation's $5,800 complex molecular test provides a more comprehensive look at a patient's cancer--allowing doctors to test a tumor sample for genetic mutations in 280 genes that could be driving tumor growth. This is different from current first-generation genetics tests for cancer, which are designed to find one or a few genomic alterations.

Physicians ordering the test receive an interpretive report that matches DNA mutations in tumors with targeted therapies, which could have a profound impact on how cancer patients are treated. Already, Foundation's test has been ordered by more than 700 oncologists.

- read the Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)
- here's Foundation Medicine's statement