High-profile VC Sequoia backs clinical tech startup Comprehend in $8.4M round

Amid digitization of clinical trials, the vaunted venture firm Sequoia Capital has stepped up to lead an $8.4 million Series A round for Comprehend Systems. The deal elevates the profile of Palo Alto, CA-based Comprehend, an upstart provider of web-based analytics software for clinical trials data.

Comprehend CEO Rick Morrison has worked on upending the status quo for analyzing clinical trials data, developing cloud-based software that enables pharma groups to slice and dice information from a variety of clinical trials platforms and types of software at unprecedented speed. This technology has attracted two undisclosed Big Pharma customers and a pair of device giants as early customers, he told FierceBiotechIT in an interview.

Sequoia gives the startup additional credibility in the investment world because the firm has built a reputation for making early bets on founding groups behind a lengthy list of tech juggernauts such as Google ($GOOG), Yahoo ($YHOO) and PayPal. Morrison has battled for gravitas in a life sciences industry where execs often demur when faced with new technologies. And Sequoia helps his cause with its expertise, capital and reputation.

"I'm very excited to partner with them," Morrison said in an phone interview. "I think it's really good for life sciences tech in general that a top-tier VC is interested in our space."

Comprehend, which FierceBiotechIT picked as a clinical IT company to watch in 2011, had some credibility among startup insiders before closing the round led by Sequoia. In a $1.2 million seed round in 2011, the company scored support from a crew of angel backers that included Facebook ($FB) billionaire Yuri Milner and Y Combinator, the famous startup accelerator program. Morrison, who founded Comprehend in 2010, completed the Y Combinator program in the same year. 

"Clinical trials are increasing in complexity, but the tools to manage and analyze the data are outdated," stated Warren Hogarth, partner at Sequoia, who is joining the startup's board of directors. "Comprehend's simple and tailored approach provides real-time insights and facilitates collaboration that helps researchers make more informed decisions about their data, save time and money, and bring a drug to market faster. "

Though famous for tech investments in Google and others, Sequoia is familiar with the life sciences scene. The firm recently backed Silicon Valley Biosystems, for instance, in a gamble on the startup's software-enabled genomics platform.

On top of Sequoia, Comprehend raised additional funds for the A round from Aaron Levie, Nils Johnson, Zod Nazem, Zorba Lieberman and the Life Science Angel Network, plus others. The earlier seed round consisted of notes that were converted in the Series A deal, so Morrison says that the company has now raised a bit more than $8.5 million.

- here's the release

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