Genetic research, conceptual illustration

Touting what the company contends is the most sensitive liquid biopsy ctDNA test for solid tumor MRD detection, Haystack Oncology announced the closing of a $56 million Series A funding round that will help it bring that test to market in 2023. The financing was led by Catalio Capital Management, which co-founded Haystack through its private equity and structured equity investment vehicles, with additional investors Bruker, Exact Ventures—the venture arm of Exact Sciences—and Alexandria Venture Investments.

Haystack, which was founded in 2021 by noted cancer researcher Bert Vogelstein of the Johns Hopkins Medical School and Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, along with Johns Hopkins colleagues Kenneth Kinzler and Nickolas Papadopoulos, builds upon two decades of research of liquid biopsy technologies to detect the smallest traces of cancer, or minimal residual disease (MRD). Haystack isn’t the first oncology- and liquid biopsy-focused molecular diagnostics company launched by the Hopkins team. Vogelstein and Kinzler were involved in the launch of Exact Sciences and the CancerSEEK liquid biopsy test developed by the trio at Hopkins was the center piece of Thrive Earlier Detection which hauled in a $110 million investment in 2019 from Third Rock Ventures. Thrive was helmed by Steven Kafka of investment firm Section 32, who is also the former president and COO of Foundation Medicine. Thrive was later scooped up by Exact Science in a deal that topped $2 billion.

At Haystack, the trio and management team are focused on providing the most accurate measure of MRD to allow clinicians to react earlier with targeted therapies for residual and recurrent cancer using panels individualized for each patient. Its technology platform is called the Haystack Duo, and takes a tumor-informed approach to identifying the patient-specific tumor mutations for MRD detection. According to the company, its diagnostic test can detect as few as one mutant molecule among a million DNA molecules.

“Detecting MRD has long been akin to looking for a needle in a haystack—we’re searching for a small number of tumor-derived DNA molecules in a sea of normal molecules in a blood sample,” noted Haystack president and CEO Dan Edelstein. “If residual disease is detected, the patient journey can be transformed to greatly improve the likelihood of clinical benefit, and ultimately, save lives.”

Co-founder Edlestein is joined in the C-suite by CTO and co-founder Frank Holtrup. Both Edelstein and Holtrup bring deep experience in the field, having served in senior management roles at PCR-based liquid biopsy company Sysmex Inostics. Additions to the Haystack Board of Directors as a result of the new financing include Isaac Ro, former CFO of Thrive Earlier Detection, as well as Catalio’s founders, George Petrocheilos and Jacob Vogelstein.

“Haystack’s mission is to deliver earlier, more precise detection of residual and recurrent tumors to personalize therapy and dramatically improve outcomes for patients with cancer,” added Edelstein. “With the help of this funding, combined with Haystack’s truly differentiated technology backed by decades of liquid biopsy research, we are uniquely positioned to ensure that the right patients receive the right treatment at the right time, which has long been the vision of precision oncology.”

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