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Earli, a South San Francisco-based biotech company, has a plan to fix this problem: instead of searching through the body for a tumor or cancer cells, it plans to make cancer cells reveal themselves. If the tumor is a needle in a haystack, Earli’s plan is to make the needle glow bigger and brighter—literally. And it’s close to reaching this goal. The company just closed a $40 million Series A round led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Perceptive Advisors, Casdin Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Sands Capital and others. This brings the company’s total funding to almost $60 million.
“No one else is taking the approach that Earli is taking,” says Justin Kao, a partner at Khosla Ventures. Kao says that many liquid biopsy companies are stuck after a blood test detects cancer, because then a patient knows they have cancer, but not where it is. In those cases, Kao says, “You’ve actually created a worse problem.” Sometimes companies are able to tell what kind of tissue the cancer is located in using machine learning algorithms, but they often can’t pinpoint the precise location of a tumor. That’s where Earli is different.
Earli’s technology works by injecting a drug that moves through the body looking for cancer cells. If it detects these cells, it forces them to create an enzyme that, when imaged with a PET scan, causes the cancerous tissue to glow. Even if the tumor is too small to be seen on normal medical images, says Earli CEO Cyriac Roeding, “we help localize it, make it visible.”
Earli’s mission is to make cancer a benign experience. Cancers are detected early when they are homogeneous; and then located early, so they can be treated when the chances of survival are multiple times higher. Rather than rely on biomarkers that cancer may - or often may not - naturally provide, Earli's technology forces cancer cells to makea synthetic, non-human biomarker using a novel gene therapy approach called Synthetic Biopsy. The early cancer is then visible in a PET scanner.
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