Creating an easy-to-use blood test to seek out cancers at an earlier stage
CEO: David Daly
Based: Cambridge, Massachusetts
The scoop: Thrive Earlier Detection is a liquid biopsy company with a simple yet potentially game-changing vision: Find cancers early.
Biotech companies are constantly looking for the next big innovation to stop or even cure late-stage cancers, but Thrive wants to make late detection a thing of the past. Finding disease early on could save millions of lives, the company figures—and tens of billions of dollars at the same time.
What makes Thrive fierce: Theranos is now a "he who shall not be named" in the medtech world for fraudulently claiming its simple test could flag disease before the point of no return.
But the liquid biopsy quest isn't over, and Thrive Earlier Detection is part of it. The company's looking to restore the faith—backed up with real science—that we can use a simple blood test to find tumors earlier and thus change the oncology treatment paradigm.
CFO Isaac Ro, a former equity analyst, says earlier detection of cancer is the biggest opportunity in life sciences. It could be worth “at a reasonable estimate, $70 billion in an addressable market," Ro said, "a huge, huge number.”
That’s assuming every American would be screened for cancer after age 50. Picking up stage 1 cancers—especially in deadly tumors of the lung, ovary or pancreas, for instance—could change the outlook from terminal to curative.
There are of course a number of tests aimed at early detection and ordered for routine screening, but they tend to be specific to a single type, such as breast or colon cancer. Some screening tests deliver false positives, and subsequent biopsies can be painful and carry a risk of infection.
Thrive wants to use its so-called CancerSEEK platform to combine the detection of multiple cancers into one accurate and speedy process. Rather than testing for cancer in a particular organ, CancerSEEK screens the blood for genetic mutations or protein markers linked to cancer, and then analyzes the data to determine whether cancer is present.
In a recent study, Johns Hopkins researchers tested CancerSEEK in eight cancers, five of which now have no screening tests. It enrolled more than 1,000 patients with early-stage, nonmetastatic cancers of the breast, esophagus, liver, lung, ovary, pancreas, stomach, or colon and rectum, and aimed to gauge how well CancerSEEK performed.
On average, it found 70% of the patients’ cancers. It worked best in ovarian cancers, catching 98% of those cases, while its worst performance was in breast cancer, where it flagged only 33% of them. For the five cancers that have no screening tests—ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic and esophageal—CancerSEEK picked up between 69% and 98% of all cases.
Though the test’s sensitivity varied, it showed more than 99% specificity, meaning it had a very low rate of false-positive results. In testing CancerSEEK on 812 healthy people, the team found seven false positives. Now, Thrive is working with Geisinger on a study testing CancerSEEK in 10,000 healthy people.
Thrive plans to offer a service that would help doctors interpret CancerSEEK results and confirm the type of cancer using other diagnostic tests. As more people use CancerSEEK, Thrive will feed the data it collects—including demographic, imaging and clinical data—into its algorithms to improve the test and make it available to different types of patients.
The company is looking to sell the test relatively cheap. The upfront cost could irk some payers, but long term, it could deliver big savings by averting expensive treatment for late-stage cancers.
Thrive got off a $110 million round last year and is looking toward a series B in 2020. It’s keeping mum on any other tangible corporate updates for now.
Investors: Thrive's May 2019 series A was led by Third Rock Ventures, with backing from Section 32, Casdin Capital, Biomatics Capital, BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, Invus, Exact Sciences and others.