JPM 2022: Freenome passes $1B funding mark with $290M from Roche for cancer blood tests

In the past, Freenome took about a year to close each of its nine-figure funding rounds. The latest of the blood testing company’s supersized fundraisings, however, came barely a month after its $300 million predecessor—and brought Freenome’s lifetime funding total well past the $1 billion mark.

The new $290 million haul came courtesy of Roche, which also participated in Freenome’s last three formal VC rounds and, through its Roche Venture Fund, is a board observer for the liquid biopsy developer. Since its 2014 founding, Freenome has raised more than $1.1 billion—about $350 million of which has come from Roche alone, Freenome CEO Mike Nolan told Fierce Medtech during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

“It’s certainly significant, and we view this as a partnership between two companies that have a shared purpose for patients,” said Nolan, who previously worked at Roche for eight years and its subsidiary Foundation Medicine for another two. “For us, it’s really, really motivating to know that they believe in us, that they want to help us succeed in our mission for patients.”

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Roche’s contributions will help Freenome expand the reach of its multiomics technology, developing new tests to spot a range of cancer types and, in some cases, multiple cancers at once. Some of those multi-cancer tests will begin clinical studies in February, with trials named after Freenome employees’ relatives who died of the disease.

The platform performs genomic, transcriptomic, methylomic and proteomic analyses to find signs of cancer in a standard blood draw, a more varied approach to screening that Nolan said allows Freenome to “capture a range of the patient’s biology so we can go back to that platform and use the tool that’s appropriate for each cancer type.”

Mike Nolan Freenome
Freenome CEO Mike Nolan

Freenome’s first test, designed to spot colorectal cancer and advanced adenomas, is currently in the clinical testing stage, with the PREEMPT CRC trial now closing out its enrollment period.

The machine-learning-powered technology aims to spot cancer as early as possible, before it has spread throughout the body. Currently, about 53,000 Americans die from colorectal cancer each year, but it carries a survival rate of 90% when caught early and while still localized, compared to 14% after it has metastasized.

“Roche is such a pillar of strength across oncology—ranging from diagnostics to pharma, with all the interstitial assets and expertise that they possess—so this comes at a really great time for us as we strengthen the multiomics platform, drive to bring CRC and advanced adenoma early detection forward as our first application, and then take those steps to bring the next cancer types to market utilizing that very same platform,” Nolan said.

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In addition to developing new tests for the platform, Freenome is also focused on figuring out how to make those tests widely accessible to every patient. To that end, from the get-go, the company has made a “major focus” of including a broadly representative population sample in its clinical studies, Nolan said.

The issue of accessibility also prompted the company to make several shifts to its original strategy. Instead of relying solely on establishing its own brick-and-mortar testing locations to recruit study participants, for example, Freenome joined forces with healthcare providers in a range of communities to meet patients where they already are.

It’s also aiming to improve early screening rates with its very format. Rather than requiring patients to perform the “do-it-yourself project” of an at-home stool test or undergo an expensive colonoscopy, Nolan noted that Freenome’s tests could be run on the routine blood draws that many of those in the average-risk population already undergo for other health reasons—capitalizing on an opportunity to make things easier for the patient, healthcare provider and test maker alike.

“We have a ‘swagger’ for the patient; we are here for the patient,” he said. “When you really connect with that purpose and make that your North Star, it’s amazing how some challenges just fall away.”