Merck, Pfizer power tumor profiling firm Strata to $26M round

The VC wings of Merck and Pfizer have led a $26 million series B investment in Strata Oncology. Raising the cash sets Strata up to file for approval of a tumor molecular profiling assay while building out its platform and the network of health centers that use its technology.

Strata first made waves in 2016 when it raised $12 million and partnered with Thermo Fisher Scientific to realize its plan to offer free tumor sequencing to 100,000 cancer patients. The idea was to meet both healthcare centers’ desire to give their patients the best treatment and biopharma’s need for a source of mutation-matched clinical trial participants.

With an observational study covering the sequencing of 100,000 people now up and running, Strata has returned to investors for cash to execute the next stage of its strategy.

New investors Merck and Pfizer answered the call, giving Strata both cash and connections to two major cancer drug developers. The drugmakers were joined in the series B by fellow new investors Innovation Fund, Deerfield Management and Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, plus existing backers Arboretum Ventures and Baird Capital.

Strata will use some of the cash to expand its network of health systems. Members of the network work with Strata to profile the tumors of their patients, giving the company access to prepared trial sites with prescreened participants. That ready-to-go platform could truncate enrollment times.

The company is also lining up a filing for approval of an assay. The planned approval covers tumor molecular profiling assay StrataNGS, which will look at DNA and RNA biomarkers plus tumor mutational load once fully developed. In parallel, Strata is working to set up another study intended to support the expansion of approved drugs into new indications.

With Strata seeking to ease R&D bottlenecks in some of the most competitive indications in the industry, big-name drugmakers are paying attention.

"We believe that data is the future currency of healthcare," Prem Tumkosit, investment principal at Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, said in a statement. “Strata's platform will generate and leverage clinical-genomic data to drive precision trial enrollment and advance cancer care.”