Exact Sciences snaps up liquid biopsy company Thrive in $2.15B deal

Exact Sciences is adding early cancer detection to its pipeline through its buyout of Thrive Earlier Detection for up to $2.15 billion in cash and stock. The deal comes just three months after Thrive raised $257 million in venture dollars to push its liquid biopsy test into a registrational trial.

Thrive launched in May 2019 with $110 million, technology out of Johns Hopkins University and Steven Kafka, formerly Foundation Medicine’s chief operating officer, as its interim chief. Exact Sciences participated in both of Thrive’s venture rounds, alongside Casdin Capital and Section 32.

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Its test, CancerSEEK, is a liquid biopsy that measures DNA and proteins in the blood to screen for multiple cancers. Rather than testing for cancer in a particular organ, CancerSEEK screens the blood for genetic mutations or protein markers that are linked to cancer. Earlier this year, the company unveiled data at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research showing the test could change clinical practice.

It tested about 10,000 women with no history or signs of cancer, in cooperation with Geisinger and Johns Hopkins University, and found the test could more than double the number of cases detected compared to traditional diagnostics. CancerSEEK was able to identify tumors located in 10 different organs, with 65% discovered before the disease spread to other parts of the body.

The acquisition is slated to close in the first quarter of 2021, the companies said in a statement on Tuesday. Under the deal, Thrive’s investors will pick up $1.7 billion at that time, of which 65% will be in Exact Sciences stock and 35% in cash. Another $450 million will be on the table if Exact can hit development and commercialization goals.

"The acquisition of Thrive is a giant leap toward ensuring blood-based, multi-cancer screening becomes a reality and, eventually, the standard of care," Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy said in the statement.

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“We are proud to take our partnership to the next level by leveraging Exact Sciences' established R&D team and highly accurate testing platform to augment development of CancerSEEK and accelerate its commercialization,” Conroy added. “By combining the expertise of both organizations, we believe we can bring this powerful technology to patients faster."

Exact Sciences isn’t the only player who bet big on liquid biopsy this year. In September, Illumina agreed to reacquire Grail—the spinout it launched in 2016—and its cancer blood test for $8 billion. The duo expects the deal to close in the second half of 2021.