|Michael J. Pellini, CEO of Foundation Medicine|
Based: Cambridge, MA
CEO: Michael J. Pellini
Clinical Focus: Cancer diagnostics
The Scoop: Every month reveals new layers of complexity in the intricate genomic machinery driving cancer. Cancer disease categories are fracturing with populations splitting into smaller, more clearly defined groups as personalized medicine becomes more of a reality.
In just two years, Foundation Medicine has developed a diagnostic tool that helps investigators manage the fast-changing genetic information needed in clinical research and gives physicians a better method for making some rational decisions on the drugs they choose to treat cancer victims. A lineup of cancer drug developers has signed on to work with the company on key cancer drug programs.
"This is not something that's 10 years out," says CEO Michael Pellini. "This is happening today." And it's backed by a trio of some cutting-edge enthusiasts on the venture side of the business: Third Rock, Google Ventures and Kleiner, Perkins.
What Makes it Fierce?
What distinguishes Foundation Medicine is the "notion of taking a comprehensive picture of each cancer patient's tumor and looking for the critical molecular drivers of that cancer," says Pellini.
Back in the spring, the company launched FoundationOne, a commercial product for cancer specialists that can identify mutations for 200 genes related to cancer. And the technology has caught on in a big way among some of the leaders in cancer drug R&D work.
Last June, Novartis ($NVS) caught the wave, partnering with Foundation Medicine on all their Phase I and Phase II cancer studies. Novartis is using the company's sequencing technology to analyze tumor samples so investigators can capture genomic profiles of trial enrollees. The company followed up by inking a pact with Clovis Oncology to develop a diagnostic that could be used to identify biomarkers relevant to a lead drug in the clinic. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Array BioPharma and several other cancer drug developers were among the pioneers to use this technology.
"As you think about genes in our test, these are not just genes targeted by approved drugs," says Pellini. "They're not just genes targeted by drugs in clinical trials. One of the things we get from working with pharma companies and medical centers is a look at the next series of biologically relevant genomic alterations that will likely be targeted in a clinical trial in the next several years. They're relevant over the course of the next couple of years, which helps us keep abreast of what's in development."
Says Pellini: "We have 7 relationships in place with pharma companies and we do expect the second half to be busy."
Investors: Founding investor Third Rock Ventures has since been joined by Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.