Guardant Health, a startup that wants to make cancer testing as simple as taking a blood test, just raised $360 million.
The round was led by SoftBank Group and included other investors that also had previously funded Guardant, such as Khosla Ventures and Sequoia Capital. In total, Guardant has raised more than $500 million.
Guardant makes a "liquid biopsy" test, called Guardant360, that uses blood samples from cancer patients and sequences the genetic information in that blood to figure out how tumors are responding to a certain cancer therapy. These tests rely on something called circulating tumor DNA, or the bits of DNA that dying tumor cells release into the bloodstream.
The new round will help fund Guardant's goal to sequence 1 million cancer patients over the next five years, which could help the company develop an early-detection test. Such a test would require a whole bunch of data that isn't readily available today.
"It's going to take a lot of data to truly understand the underpinnings of the complexity of cancer," Guardant CEO Helmy Eltoukhy told Business Insider.
The growing field of early-detection cancer tests
Guardant is not the only company looking into early cancer detection. It's a movement that has been gaining momentum in recent years, sparking huge investments. In March, the Illumina spinout Grail announced it had raised $900 million from drugmakers and Amazon for its efforts and large-scale clinical trials. Freenome, another startup that wants to build out a blood test that screens for the earliest signs of cancer, announced that it had raised $65 million in a series A round that same day.
There are some massive trials, too. One Grail trial to detect breast cancer is planning to recruit 120,000 women who are seeking a mammogram.
There's still a fair amount of skepticism about how helpful cancer genomics tests are overall. According to a Medscape survey of 132 oncologists, 36% thought genomic testing was not yet useful. Sixty-one percent of those who responded said less than a quarter of their patients would benefit from the testing.
But that could change in the not-so-distant future. Eighty-nine percent of respondents said they thought genetic testing would be useful in the next 10 years.