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Hopkins company raises $110 million to develop cancer test

Kenneth Kinzler, left, and Dr. Bert Vogelstein are researchers at Johns Hopkins and co-founders of Thrive. (Submitted photo)

Kenneth Kinzler, left, and Dr. Bert Vogelstein are researchers at Johns Hopkins and co-founders of Thrive. (Submitted photo)

A startup developing technology originating at Johns Hopkins that offers early detection of cancers launched Thursday with $110 million in Series A funding, a record Series A round for a Johns Hopkins company.

Thrive Earlier Detection Corp. will develop CancerSeek, a liquid biopsy that tests for eight different forms of common cancers.

“This is a milestone moment in the development of Johns Hopkins’ biotech ecosystem,” Christy Wyskiel, head of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, said in a statement. “Johns Hopkins researchers are at the forefront of advancements in cancer diagnostics, and Baltimore is fertile ground for the commercialization of these discoveries into products that revolutionize health care.”

Boston-based venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures led the round with participation from other investors, including Section32, Casdin Capital, Biomatics Capital, BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, The Invus Group, Exact Sciences.

As is typical with these large investments, the company will be based in Boston, close to its funders, with a Boston-based executive team leading the company.

Its clinical development operations will remain in Baltimore, supporting about 25 jobs.

Early detection of cancer is an emerging biotech market.

Most cancers are currently detected at a more advanced stage, limiting treatment options. Early detection often makes it easier to cure cancers.

CancerSeek would use a blood test to allow early detection of cancers, possibly including ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreas and esophageal cancers.

“Over the past 30 years we have made great strides in understanding cancer. Combining this knowledge with the latest in molecular testing technologies, our founders have developed a simple and affordable blood test for the detection of many cancers at relatively early stages,” Christoph Lengauer, a partner at Third Rock Ventures and co-founder and chief innovation officer of Thrive, said in a statement. “We envision a future where routine preventative care includes a blood test for cancer, just as patients are now routinely tested for early stages of heart disease. We know that if cancer is caught early enough, it often can be cured.”

The Thrive leadership team also will include Steven Kafka, a partner at Third Rock Ventures as CEO; and Isaac Ro, former vice president and lead medical technology analyst at Goldman Sachs & Company, as chief financial officer.

Thrive and the CancerSeek technology come out of the lab of renowned Johns Hopkins cancer researcher Dr. Bert Vogelstein. The technology combines the recent development of CancerSeek alongside a lifetime of cancer research.

The other Johns Hopkins researchers listed as company founders include Kenneth W. Kinzler and Nickolas Papadopoulas.

CancerSeek has received Breakthrough Device designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is currently involved in a prospective study involving 10,000 women with no prior history of cancer to see if a blood test can be used as a cancer screening method.

The Thrive launch can offer an opportunity for Johns Hopkins to continue to track a potentially significant technology it helped launch.

Typically, Johns Hopkins either launches a new company with its technology or licenses it to an existing company. When the research is licensed to existing companies, it often enters the secretive research and development arms of those companies.

Instead, as a startup, Johns Hopkins may be able to share more information about what Thrive is doing, potentially inspiring the next research to commercialize the technology.

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