Freenome Raises $65M in Series A from Andreessen Horowitz, GV and others

The Freenome team in 2016

Since the company’s beginning in 2014, Freenome has had a clear vision — to reinvent disease management through early detection and intervention. And over the past three years, our team has been tackling this long term goal by making cancer screening and diagnostics as accurate and accessible as possible, through a fusion of machine learning, biology and computer science. With this, we hope to change the way we approach healthcare by equipping people with the knowledge and tools to maintain a healthier life, and one day, prevent disease altogether.

To make our bold vision a reality, we have two primary areas of focus:

  1. Marry technology and biology together in an unprecedented way, through a combination of genomics research and computational expertise. Modern DNA sequencing has enabled us to answer traditionally biological questions with computational solutions. Yet, biology is often far more complicated than technology; it has trillions of moving pieces that are ever changing. “Freenome” (our namesake) is an example of that.
While the sequences of your DNA (your genome) remain relatively unchanged for most of your life, your freenome, or “free-floating genome” changes every 20 minutes.

Your freenome is composed of fragments of blood-borne DNA and RNA, shed by the cells in the body as they die, giving us a snapshot of your cellular health at any given time. By studying the freenome with machine learning, we’ve found novel signatures to detect diseases such as cancer in the very early stages at a time when they are most treatable and curable. For example, instead of focusing on DNA fragments coming directly from tumor cells, we’ve learned to deconvolute the signals coming from other cells (such as your immune system) that change as a result of the presence of the tumor. Making sense of immune signature changes is extremely complicated to understand but can be much more robust compared to the signal coming from tumor cells which make up less than 1%. By leveraging machine learning to understand these types of novel signatures, we can detect cancer earlier and cheaper than traditional methods.

Early detection is crucial because even the best treatments we have for cancer today give us about 30–40% chance of survival when we detect cancer late (as opposed to 80–90% when treated early). Since 80% of all cancers are detected late today, systematizing early detection to enable early treatment is the key to saving the most amount of lives from cancer. Because our mission is to create a new and replicable system around early disease detection, we aim to apply this across multiple types of cancers and other diseases in time.

This brings us to our next focus area:

2. Introducing an opportunity to change behavior and minimize fear around cancer screening. Today, a doctor-led screening may imply a real and imminent risk based on warning signs (lumps, irregular health patterns, etc.) without immediate follow up steps. This often leads to patient confusion and frustration as they are left to wait helplessly for further results. While Freenome is beginning at early detection of disease to make this process more seamless, we aim to go further and ultimately move towards preventing diseases rather than merely detecting them. One day, not only will we be able to find diseases BEFORE they happen, but we may be able to suggest next steps that will empower patients to avoid those diseases on their own. The introduction of proactive, regular preventative screening will require changing current behavior, which we know takes a very long time. Our goal is to make cancer screening and diagnostics as simple and regular as a yearly physical and collaborate with clinicians and oncologists on this journey, so people can be as precise and intentional about their wellness choices as possible — and thereby become less fearful and more in control over their health.

Last year, we raised $5.5 million to prove out the potential of this technology. Now, it’s time to make sure that it’s safe and ready for the broader population.

To that end, today we are thrilled to announce a Series A funding round of $65 million, led again by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). Joining them are a fantastic group of tech and biotech investors including GV (Google Ventures), Polaris Partners, Charles River Ventures, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, Spectrum 28, and Asset Management Ventures. Other investors from the previous rounds such as Data Collective and Founders Fund also participated. These funds will help bring Freenome’s technology to market faster by accelerating our ongoing research and clinical trials. We are working with several institutions such as University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health (UCSD) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to ensure our tests are accurate and effective. We are also working with five pharmaceutical companies to give an accurate indication of the treatments that a patient would most likely to respond to once we’ve detected the cancer. Overall, our new funds will enable larger, more comprehensive trials to bring our early detection tests for cancer using a simple, non-invasive blood test (rather than an invasive biopsy), to you faster.

Similar to the seed-round announced last June, this group of investors has already demonstrated and continues to bring a unique blend of expertise in biology, tech and business required to bring our tests to market. In addition to funding, Vijay Pande, general partner of a16z’s bio fund, will be joining our Board. Vijay has been one of our biggest, most outspoken advocates, and his endorsement — given his qualifications, his reputation and his unparalleled understanding of technology and science has been extremely affirming for us.

Soon we will share more details about the work we’re doing with the industry including our scientific advisory board, go-to-market progress, findings from clinical trials and research, and our work with regulatory bodies.

I’d like to thank everyone within Freenome who has worked so hard and made countless personal sacrifices to get us to where we are today. The success of Freenome thus far is entirely due to the multidisciplinary talents that each member of the team brings to work everyday; to bring us one step closer early detection blood tests.

We have much left to do. And regardless of whether you come with a background in software engineering, machine learning, molecular biology or other relevant skills, if you want to be part of our mission to reinvent disease prevention through early detection, come join us.

Gabriel Otte

Founder and CEO, Freenome Inc.