Strata Oncology gets $90M boost from Pfizer, Merck and more for genomic cancer testing

Even after facing a robust attack by drugs and surgery, cancer cells can continue lurking deep within the body’s innermost layers of tissue. On a mission to journey through each stratum to uncover those hard-to-spot leftover cells, however, is aptly named Strata Oncology.

Strata is developing a range of DNA- and RNA-based tests—and a genomic and transcriptomic profiling platform to boot—to both detect signs of minimal residual disease and predict how an individual cancer patient will react to various potential treatments.

The first iteration of the latter is already available on an investigational basis: The StrataNGS assay conducts in-depth genomic analysis of a miniscule tissue sample to provide a full profile of a cancer tumor. The test can be used to assess any solid tumor, analyzing more than 420 genes and potential biomarkers to paint a thorough picture of each patient’s cancer cells and best treatment options.

Currently available to patients at more than 125 hospitals across the U.S. through the Strata Trial, StrataNGS is expected to have a broader commercial rollout sometime this year, the company announced in late 2020.

Strata’s minimal residual disease assay, meanwhile, is still in development. It’ll take a similarly personalized approach to detecting the tiniest traces of early-stage cancers that remain in the body during or after treatment.

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That development will now shift into hyperdrive, thanks to a deluge of financing led by Wellington Management.

The $90 million series C was also joined by a group of new and existing backers that included the venture capital arms of Pfizer and Merck, which previously co-led Strata’s $26 million series B in mid-2018.

In addition to accelerating the development of the minimal residual disease test, the new funds will also help Strata add to its pipeline of treatment selection tests like StrataNGS and further expand the platform responsible for performing the genomic and transcriptomic analyses of each test.

Study results presented earlier this year at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting showed that the platform goes beyond profiling solid tumors to also identify completely new biomarkers indicating how a patient might respond to certain treatments.

Namely, the platform was able to predict reactions to Merck's immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab) better than other assays. It also identified 12% of patients across cancer types who might benefit from the drug but aren’t currently included in its approved indications.

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Beyond merely focusing on developing its array of diagnostic tests, Strata has also forged several partnerships with Big Pharma companies to improve clinical trial recruitment and validate the platform’s newly discovered biomarkers.

The most recent of these, announced in March, saw Strata tap Pfizer as its first pharmaceutical partner for the Strata PATH trial, which will study how effective certain immunotherapies are at treating tumors that are outside of their already FDA-approved indications but have been identified by Strata’s genomic analyses as potential targets for the drugs.

The study will focus on advanced cancer patients who are positive for the identified biomarkers and have exhausted all other standard forms of treatment. More pharma companies are expected to join the trial after it begins.