Delfi Diagnostics raises $225M to develop lung cancer detection technology

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With a 15,000 person trial down the pipeline, commercialization of an accessible cancer blood test is around the corner.

Baltimore life sciences company Delfi Diagnostics is $225 million closer to bringing its blood test for early detection of cancer to the market.

The 2021 RealLIST Startups honoree’s Series B was led by DFJ Growth with participation from Eli Lilly and Co., Point72, Brown Advisory, Point Field Partners, Initiate Ventures, Open Field Capital and PTX Capital. The round also included previous investors from the company’s $100 million raise last year like Cowen Healthcare Investments, Foresite Capital, Menlo Ventures, OrbiMed, Samsara BioCapital, Rock Springs Capital, Northpond Ventures, AV8 Ventures, Illumina Ventures, Windham Venture Partners and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price.

The funds are being used for a 15,000-person trial called CASCADE-LUNG, which is focused on the early detection of lung and other cancers. The plan is to create an easily accessible blood test that can detect multiple cancers. The test would be administered at an annual checkup instead of via an expensive biopsy after someone starts having medical issues or feels a lump.

Delfi’s focus on cancer diagnostics reflects the disease’s prevalence, as well as the high costs it imposes on those who suffer from it. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Cancer Society reported that prices for cancer testing can range from $300 to over $10,000, with costs of targeted treatments often exceeding $100,000 per year.

“Cancer is a global public health problem and addressing it requires a solution that is accessible around the world,” said Dr. Victor Velculescu, Delfi’s CEO and founder, in a statement. “We believe our approach is uniquely capable of delivering high-performing, cost-effective and clinically relevant tests for multiple applications to meet the needs of patients and providers everywhere.”

Velculescu previously explained to that Delfi’s tech uses “fragmentomics of cell-free DNA.” He continued to describe the early detection technology: “When the DNA from the tumor cell gets released, it is naturally broken into fragments that reflect the type of cell from which it came, and we can pick up that signal, inclusive of length of fragments, genomic features, DNA content —which all reflect whether it is derived from a cancer and, if so, where the cancer originated.”

When Velculescu explained the technology a year ago, the company had fewer than 20 employees. Now, Delfi has 150 employees and plans to continue growing across the country, along with in its current locations in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood, and Palo Alto, California, according to the Baltimore Business Journal.

“Delfi has made incredible progress in a short amount of time,” said DFJ Growth partner Justin Kao, who will join Delfi’s board of directors, in a statement. “We believe that Delfi’s low-cost approach is critical to bringing early cancer detection to millions of patients globally. But the most exciting thing about Delfi is its potential to create a next-generation diagnostics company that innovates on data and analytics rather than focusing on ever-more complicated wet lab techniques.”

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