Guardant gets $360M to sequence 1M cancer patients

Guardant will use the $360 million to support its 1 million cancer patient database plan

Guardant Health has raised $360 million to sequence the tumor DNA of 1 million cancer patients in the next five years. The SoftBank-led megaround positions the cancer blood test pioneer to push ahead with the sequencing initiative while expanding globally and stepping up its early detection R&D program.

Redwood City, California-based Guardant will work toward the target of 1 million patients by increasing the commercial use of its tumor test Guardant360 and running studies at sites including M.D. Anderson, Forbes reports. Guardant will need to grow quickly to hit its target within five years. Since introducing the test in 2014, Guardant says it has been used by 3,000 oncologists to analyze more than 35,000 patient samples.

Guardant360 looks for 73 cancer genes in blood samples drawn from patients. Physicians use the results to identify the treatments and clinical trials best suited to the genetics of their patients. But for Guardant the data generated in these tests have wider-reaching implications.

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“We believe that conquering cancer is at its core a big-data problem, and researchers have been data starved,” Guardant CEO Helmy Eltoukhy said in a statement. “Every physician who orders one of our tests and every patient whose tumor DNA we sequence add to this larger mission by improving our understanding of this complex disease. With this ambitious five-year effort, we intend to accelerate this progress and provide a much-needed infusion of data into the field.”

The therapeutic focus of Guardant’s program sets it apart from other sequencing initiatives. In 2016, AstraZeneca began working with J. Craig Venter’s Human Longevity to build a database of 2 million genome sequences. And in March, Regeneron stepped up its already sizable genomics program by teaming with GlaxoSmithKline and U.K. Biobank to sequence 500,000 samples. The big difference between the initiatives and Guardant’s is the latter is looking squarely at tumor DNA.

Guardant thinks such a concentration of data on the genetics of tumors will drive forward cancer care. In SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, Associates, Temasek, Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, OrbiMed and 8VC, Guardant has found investors willing to bankroll its vision and drive its lifetime fundraising haul up to $550 million. But some observers are more guarded.

“I think it’s going to be difficult to interpret the data,” Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center oncologist Luis Diaz, M.D. told Forbes. “But if they have individual cohorts in that data, that could yield productive information that could be great for the field.” Diaz is the founder of another liquid biopsy business, Personal Genome Diagnostics.

Guardant will work toward the 1-million-tumor target in part by expanding globally. The company plans to set up a joint venture with SoftBank to commercialize Guardant360 in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, parts of the world with an estimated 7.8 million new cases of cancer a year.

Parallel to these activities, Guardant will expand an R&D program that could protect it from competitors in years to come. The Lunar project aims to improve early detection of cancer. In the first phase of the program, Guardant hopes to use its early detection technology to find evidence of residual disease in patients who have been treated for cancer. Such a test could contribute to a decline in recurrences of cancer.

The longer-term goal of the program is to create a test that detects early signs of cancer in healthy but high-risk patients. That goal puts Guardant on turf being staked out by Grail, the Illumina spinout that has raised $1 billion and hoovered up talent to develop a test for all types of cancer.