Foundation Medicine Raises $25M to Get to the Bottom of Cancer Genomes
The trick to beating cancer could be a single test that shows all known genetic traits in each person’s tumor, and that also matches those results to the best treatments. Boston-based Foundation Medicine reports today that it has raised the first part of a planned $25 million round of Series A venture funding to make comprehensive genomic analyses of tumors a standard tool in the fight against cancer.
A crack team of cancer, genetics, and industry veterans from the Boston area has assembled around the startup. Boston-based Third Rock Ventures, founded by former executives of the cancer drugmaker Millennium Pharmaceuticals, has incubated the company and led the first-round financing. Alexis Borisy, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Third Rock and the former CEO of Cambridge-based CombinatoRx (NASDAQ:CRXX), is the startup’s founding chief executive (something we were the first to report back in February). And Eric Lander, a pioneer of genomics research and an advisor to President Barack Obama on science and technology policy, is headlining the group of scientists and physicians who are advising the startup.
Foundation Medicine, which was formed in 2009, has come into being as high-speed DNA sequencing and a slew of academic studies help to uncover new genetic mutations that, say, protect tumors from certain therapies, or help cancer cells grow out of control. Drug companies are developing cancer drugs for patients who have specific genes that make them likely to respond well to the treatments, building on Roche-Genentech’s success in marketing the breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin) for women with the HER2 gene. Also, a growing number of startups are focusing on providing new genetic tests that help guide physicians in treating cancer patients.
Foundation Medicine is taking its own approach to personalizing cancer treatments. While many previous firms have focused on developing tests to detect specific genes linked to likely outcomes of cancer treatments, Foundation Medicine is planning to use high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies to expose the plethora of genes and genetic variants in cancer genomes, according to Borisy. Borisy and Third Rock are betting that the future of cancer treatment will involve a single analysis of cancer DNA in guiding treatments, rather than multiple tests that screen for individual genes or groups of genes.
Today DNA sequencing is done primarily in research settings, with extremely limited clinical use. Borisy, however, says that it’s time to put this technology to work for people with cancer. “If many patients would benefit from this deep understanding, then there needs to be a way to take this from being a research tool to something that would be useful and meaningful and work in the routine practice of clinical oncology,” he says. “That has been the driving motivation and inspiration behind Foundation, and it’s quite clear that this is the way the world is going.”
The company’s exact strategy is evolving, according to Borisy, yet some details are clear. The firm plans to set up a central lab in the … Next Page »