• Investors include OrbiMed, Khosla, Sequoia, Formation 8
  • Company's `liquid biopsies' replace older invasive procedures

Guardant Health Inc. raised almost $100 million in its latest funding round as the startup seeks to expand the use of blood tests to screen for cancer DNA, replacing traditional invasive procedures for tissue samples.

The fundraising was led by health-care investment firm OrbiMed Advisors and included Khosla Ventures, Sequoia Capital and Formation 8, Guardant said Thursday in a statement. The Silicon Valley startup, based in Redwood City, California, is waiting for some final investors before closing the round and can’t yet provide an exact total, Chief Executive Officer Helmy Eltoukhy said. He declined to comment on the startup’s valuation.

Including previous financing, the company has raised a total of almost $200 million.

The promise of a so-called liquid biopsy test is to provide a cheaper, less intrusive way to track how a cancer is mutating or responding to treatment. The tests screen the blood for tiny fragments of genetic material released by cancer tissue, known as circulating tumor DNA. Such tests have only recently become available as genetic sequencing has become more affordable and the technology has improved so much that it can detect just a few molecules of errant DNA in a vial of blood.

Advanced Cases

Guardant’s test, which has a retail price of about $5,000, is used mainly by advanced cancer patients with solid tumors. The most frequent orders are for lung, breast and colorectal cancer patients, Eltoukhy said.

Competitor Pathway Genomics Inc. was chided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September for marketing a liquid biopsy test to healthy consumers and saying it could help them detect cancer early. The FDA said the test hadn’t been validated by science. The company said in response that “we believe we have performed appropriate validation of the test as a laboratory developed test, and we are in the process of performing additional studies.”

Guardant turns down orders for patients with early-stage cancer, Eltoukhy said, because the tests haven’t yet been proven to be able to replace traditional biopsies at that stage.

“Those applications will come, but we need to be able to do it in a measured and responsible way,” he said. Eventually, Guardant’s goal is to provide products across the “continuum of cancer care,” he said, from detection in healthy individuals to monitoring for recurrence in patients who survived cancer.

Persuading Doctors

Guardant will use the funds on business development and marketing, seeking to persuade doctors to adopt the company’s tests and health insurers to cover their costs, according to Eltoukhy. It also will try to sign more agreements with drugmakers to use Guardant’s tests in clinical trials. 

Guardant signed a deal with Mirati Therapeutics Inc. in December to select patients for a trial of Mirati’s experimental drug glesatinib. Patients with non-small-cell lung cancer will be screened for certain genetic alterations to identify those who would respond best to the drug.

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