HONG KONG – Chinese cancer diagnosis firm Burning Rock Biotech has closed a series C financing round, pocketing ¥850 million (US$125.5 million). The company said the funds will help it step up its game in cancer genetic testing in China, especially with technology under development that enables early cancer detection.

Specializing in next-generation sequencing (NGS) diagnostics solutions for precision medicine in oncology, the company drew six investors for the latest round. GIC led the financing, with Lyfe Capital, CMB International Capital, Lilly Asia Ventures, Sequoia Capital China and T&Brothers Capital also participating.

"The proceeds will primarily be used for early cancer detection product development and sales and marketing force expansion for the companion diagnostics business," Summer Shen, public relations and media manager at Burning Rock, told BioWorld.

Founded in 2014, Burning Rock provides NGS test services in a laboratory-developed test model. Today, it has three core businesses: cancer patient companion diagnostics, early cancer detection and cancer genome big data ecosystems.

Prior to the latest round, Burning Rock had secured ¥43 million, ¥150 million and ¥300 million in series A, A-plus and B rounds between 2014 and 2016.

Shen said the series C will provide the firm with the financial guarantees to continue to focus on three key areas.

First is the research and development of an early cancer detection product. According to Shen, the product will cover nine types of cancer, including lung, gastric, ovarian and liver cancers. Data are "quite promising for now," Shen added, "and the proceeds will help us in the developing and marketing process."

The company is using a DNA methylation assay based on an NGS platform to develop the product. The work started more than two years ago, though the company has not revealed further details.

Early detection is the "ultimate solution" to extending overall cancer survival period and improving survival quality, according to Burning Rock CEO Han Yusheng.

"Tumor precision medicine is based on precise diagnosis. As more and more new targeted drugs and immunotherapy are available in the market, NGS-based companion diagnostics have become essential for better cancer treatment solutions," Han said.

The second key area of focus for Burning Rock is to expand its existing business in late-stage patient detection. To date, it has developed 32 products for different types of cancer and clinical applications.

"Our products include a monitoring panel that covers 168 genes and big panel that covers 520 genes for doing tests for tumor mutation burdens, microsatellite instability and so forth," Shen explained.

The third area of focus is the development of a genomic big data ecosystem called Live Annotation, Visualization And Analysis (LAVA). LAVA connects doctors and pharmaceutical companies, and provides doctors with the ability to work more closely with each other and with pharmaceutical companies. Burning Rock is working to enable LAVA to connect patients in the future.

"For example, doctors could initiate studies or enlarge samples in their studies through sharing data shared among each other. LAVA also could help pharmaceutical companies quickly enroll patients with the same genomic marker in clinical trials and facilitate the follow-up work," Shen said.

Fast-growing market

The firm said the tumor precision medicine market has been doubling every year for the past three years and that rapid growth will not run out of steam in the next three years. That promising outlook is what has drawn investors to pour capital into the field.

"As a long-term investor, we believe in the adoption of precision medicine in the future of cancer treatment," said Choo Yong Cheen, chief investment officer for private equity at GIC.

Meanwhile, Lyfe Capital and CMB International Capital said they invested in Burning Rock again because of the progress the firm has made.

Last year, the firm's cancer NGS reagent kit obtained marketing clearance from China's National Medical Products Administration (NMPA, formerly known as the CFDA), two years after it entered the priority review program. The product can be used at top-level and specialized hospitals in China to help lung cancer patients.

"This is the first NGS kit approved by the NMPA, strictly following the guidelines of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network for lung cancer," Shen said.

And Burning Rock continues to strive to be a forerunner in the NGS space by upholding international standards and entering strategic collaborations with foreign players.

Last year, its laboratory jointly run with the Chinese Thoracic Oncology Group passed a technical review by the National Center for Clinical Laboratories. The firm said it has the only clinical laboratory with recognition from China's NGS laboratory authority, under the U.S. Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments standards and the College of American Pathologists.

In 2015, the company inked a high-profile partnership with its NGS peer Illumina Inc., of the U.S. The Chinese firm aimed to develop new molecular diagnostics for cancer by using Illumina's NGS instrument components and reagents.

The company's other partners include Agilent Technologies, Perkinelmer Inc. and Qiagen NV.