Guardant Health, a startup that’s been pushing to open a new front on the global war on cancer, has raised $360 million in a gargantuan round of funding led by a subsidiary of Japanese telecoms giant SoftBank, with participation from Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, OrbiMed, 8VC, “certain funds and accounts” managed by T. Rowe Price, and Temasek, among others.
Founded in 2013, Guardant has been developing a non-invasive screening tool that relies on blood samples rather than tissue to detect cancer. The “Guardant 360” test is designed to help patients avoid risky and expensive biopsies. The genomic test helps pair patients who have advanced cancer with targeted therapies, as well as with emerging drugs in clinical trials.
Guardant had already raised around $190 million, including a chunky $100 million Series D round last January. With its latest cash injection, the company has revealed plans to sequence the tumor DNA of more than one million cancer patients within the next five years. With this data, Guardant said that it expects to fuel “fundamental advancements across the continuum of cancer care” while expediting the development of blood-based tests to detect early-stage cancer.
“We believe that conquering cancer is at its core a big data problem, and researchers have been data-starved,” explained Guardant CEO and cofounder Helmy Eltoukhy. “Our launch of the world’s first commercial comprehensive liquid biopsy sparked a boom in cancer data acquisition. Every physician who orders one of our tests and every patient whose tumor DNA we sequence add to this larger mission by improving our understanding of this complex disease. With this ambitious five-year effort, we intend to accelerate this progress and provide a much-needed infusion of data into the field.”
The scourge of cancer
Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and is responsible for around 1 in 6 deaths. Early detection is known to improve a patient’s outcome significantly, as it helps prevent the disease from spreading around the body. This is why Guardant is attracting so much VC investment: It’s fighting a disease that has had a tremendously destructive impact on human life.
Life sciences in general is drawing major investment from big names across the technology spectrum. Alphabet’s investment arm, GV (formerly Google Ventures), has a long history of investments in health tech, and in the past couple of months alone it has invested in SpyBiotech, an Oxford University spinout working on “next-generation” vaccines, as well as joining a $29 million investment into Science 37 to help bring clinical trials to the home.
Elsewhere, Alphabet has two additional health-focused technology arms. Verily Life Sciences (Verily) recently announced that it had received an $800 million investment from Singapore-based investment firm Temasek, the same organization that just invested in Guardant. Verily’s stated goal is to build technology to “better understand health” and prevent and manage diseases. And Calico, which was founded in 2013 by Google and Arthur D. Levinson, is a biotech research body with a focus on extending human life.
Last year, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced a $3 billion program to prevent, cure, or manage “all diseases” within their children’s lifetime.
Guardant’s goal fits within these other ambitious initiatives to extend human life through curbing one of the world’s biggest killers.
Alongside the funding news, Guardant and SoftBank also revealed a new joint venture designed to commercialize Guardant’s existing liquid biopsy technology across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. “Our investment will enable Guardant, already the clear leader in an exciting field, to become the Rosetta Stone for cancer, across all stages,” added Masayoshi Son, SoftBank Group chairman and CEO.