Jesse Salk, CEO and Co-Founder of TwinStrand Biosciences. (TwinStrand photo)
New financing: Gene sequencing startup TwinStrand Biosciences raised $ 50 million in a Series B round led by Section 32, a California-based fund focused on biotechnology, technology, healthcare and life sciences. All venture capital funding for the 6-year-old company is now north of $ 70 million.
Double innovation strands: TwinStrand, which emerged from the University of Washington, has developed technologies for both gene sequencing and sequencing results analysis to discover what the company calls “genetic needles in a haystack”.
Conventional genetic sequencing isn’t entirely accurate, which is okay when you’re trying to filter out the ATGC pattern of DNA in a bunch of largely homogeneous cells. However, if you find rare, abnormal sequences – such as tiny numbers of rogue cancer cells – it is important to know that the mutations you discover are actually there, rather than just an error caused by the sequencing process.
“If you can’t see for sure what the truth is, you are stumbling around in the dark,” said CEO Dr. Jesse Salk. TwinStrand’s technology claims to provide these results with much greater accuracy.
The company’s tech platform is then able to understand the sequences and figure out the problematic genetic code.
Real applications: The technology can be used for early cancer detection, to find cancer cells that have survived despite treatment, and to monitor cancer recurrence. It is useful in advanced cellular immunotherapies and can be used to test chemicals and drugs to see if they can cause mutations in human cells, eliminating the need for time-consuming animal toxicity testing.
Elena Cant, Chief Operating Officer of TwinStrand Biosciences. (TwinStrand photo)
Latest developments: The company was founded in 2015 and has 50 employees. The number of employees is expected to more than double by the end of the year. In 2020, the company launched its first commercial products and signed a contract with Foundation Medicine. The latter offers fluid biopsy analysis and will include TwinStrand technology in its testing. The startup plans similar licensing deals with other companies to be announced later this year, Salk said.
TwinStrand completes construction of its clinical laboratory on the Seattle coast and will take up 20,000 square feet of office space.
Guide: Salk is also the chief scientist and co-founder of TwinStrand and a member of the affiliated clinical faculties of the UW and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He sees cancer patients part-time at VA Puget Sound in Seattle. He has an MD / PhD with distinction from the UW. Salk is the grandson of the late Jonas Salk, the scientist who discovered and developed the polio vaccine.
Elena Cant, Chief Operating Officer, joined the company in January 2020, most recently at Takeda Pharmaceuticals.
Investors: In addition to the capital from Section 32, this final round included Soleus Capital and Janus Henderson Investors as new investors, as well as existing investors such as Madrona Venture Group, Ridgeback Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments, and others.
Dr. Michael Pellini, a Section 32 partner and former CEO of cutting-edge cancer diagnostics company Foundation Medicine, will join TwinStrand’s board of directors on the new funding.
Past laps: The Seattle-based biotech raised $ 16 million in a Madrona-led round in January 2020, as well as $ 5.5 million in previous seed funding and $ 6.4 million in research grants for small business innovation. That brings the total to $ 77.9 million in venture capital and grants.