By: Craig Steger and Thomas Busby
Beginning with Roche’s acquisition of the balance of Foundation Medicine for $2.4 billion this past June, the long championed (yet unrealized) promise of the liquid biopsy market has begun to take shape. This transaction was significant as it was the first move by a strategic acquirer to build out a liquid biopsy business since J&J’s fateful experience with the first-generation liquid biopsy platform, CellSearch. Moreover, this transaction seems to have set off an arms race with two additional strategic acquisitions occurring in the space, one IPO, and >$1.5 billion of institutional and strategic capital flowing into yet another target. Indeed, Exosome Diagnostics was snapped up by Bio-Techne (Nasdaq: TECH) this past June for a total transaction value of $575 million and Precision for Medicine acquired ApoCell just this month. Regarding capital flows into the segment, Guardant Health (NASDAQ: GH) executed a successful IPO raising $237 million in October of 2018 and more than $1.5 billion in institutional capital has flowed into GRAIL in the past twelve months. Interestingly, there were many strategic pharma investors that participated in GRAIL’s raise: Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ: CELG), Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) all participated in GRAIL’s Series B in early 2017.
With >$4.75 billion in capital flowing into the liquid biopsy segment, it’s becoming increasingly clear that liquid biopsy platforms are now ready to be incorporated into basic research and existing clinical workflows, with the result being that big pharma, diagnostic and life science tools players are taking notice. Pressure will now be applied to those strategics who have not yet “joined the party” as interest in liquid biopsy assets seems to be increasing. Perhaps most insightful of all these transactions is the fact that ApoCell’s platform centers around circulating tumor cells, as opposed to cell free DNA or exosomes like Guardant, GRAIL and Exosome Diagnostics. These next-generation circulating tumor cell isolation technologies are beginning to drive increased interest in the analysis and biology of these cancer cells. It also highlights the fact that in the past few years ~90% of clinical trials using liquid biopsy techniques are analyzing circulating tumor cells opposed to circulating tumor DNA.
Investments and acquisitions in the space are undoubtedly only just beginning, and we look forward to seeing this market continue to mature and grow.
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