Cancer care is about to get more personal thanks to Function Oncology.
The San Diego-based CRISPR-powered functional genomics platform company announced its launch from stealth on April 12, alongside a $28 million Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and Section 32, with participation from Casdin Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments.
Function Oncology leverages a new CRISPR-enabled platform that moves beyond traditional gene sequencing to measuring gene function, allowing doctors to profile and understand cancer in patient-specific detail. The company aims to identify optimal therapeutic opportunities for cancer patients and advance the next generation of targeted cancer treatments.
“Conventional next-generation sequencing approaches have marked a revolution in cancer diagnostics and treatment, but time has proven that this is only effective for a small subset of drugs and targets, leaving the majority of patients without meaningful therapeutic options,” said Srinath Sampath, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Function Oncology. “We believe that the next level of precision oncology will be to move beyond gene sequence, to gene function.”
Sampath added that Function Oncology’s platform is the first to allow for efficient, scalable and individualized assessment of drug target vulnerabilities directly in patient tumor samples. Personalized assessments of patient tumor samples will allow doctors to identify the non-mutated ‘hidden’ drug targets and lead to more advancements in drug development.
“The field of precision oncology continues to undergo a remarkable, technology-driven transformation,” said Vineeta Agarwala, M.D., Ph.D., general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “Function Oncology’s CRISPR-based platform has the potential to further accelerate this entire field beyond the limitations of conventional genomics and unlock a potentially transformative new era of cancer treatment and drug development.”
Section 32 Managing Partner Stave Kafka, Ph.D., praised Function Ocology’s “powerful” platform for its potential in both diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
“These applications range from accelerating target identification and validation, to producing unprecedented insights to enroll the right patients in clinical trials, to dramatically expanding the impact of existing drugs and surfacing novel cancer targets for drug development,” he said. “This is a remarkable foundation upon which to create a true, next-generation precision medicine company.”
Validated by Data
In addition to launching from stealth this month, Function Oncology also presented data providing clinical validation of its platform at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2023 Annual Meeting on April 16 in Orlando, Florida.
The presentation featured data from an acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cohort that demonstrated the ability of Function Oncology’s CRISPR-based platform to profile and understand cancer in patient-specific detail.
“These data underscore the powerful potential of our functional genomics platform to produce tailored treatment strategies,” said Srihari Sampath, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder and chief scientific officer of Function Oncology. “In this study, our platform achieved very high sensitivity and specificity to identify gene dependencies driving individual patient responses, as well as high predictive value for observed clinical outcomes. For the first time, we are able to efficiently move beyond traditional gene sequencing to directly measuring gene function in order to define optimal therapeutic strategies for cancer patients.”
Founders: Collaborators with Expertise
Although the Series A financing marks Function Oncology’s launch from stealth, the company was founded in 2019 by twin brothers Srinath and Srihari Sampath and long-time friend Christian Schmedt, Ph.D., who serves as chief technology officer.
The three founders were collaborators at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, where the Sampath brothers held lead roles from 2013 to 2019 and where Schmedt continues to serve, having held lead roles there since 2004.
Function Oncology’s team is rounded out by Chief Data Officer Yali Li, Ph.D. – a Foundation Medicine alum and former statistician at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. Ryan Pinto, Ph.D., MBA – another Foundation medicine alum – serves as vice president of business development.
CEO: Srinath Sampath, M.D., Ph.D.
Headquarters: San Diego
Business: Precision medicine company advancing a CRISPR-powered personalized functional genomics platform.
Notable: Function Oncology’s platform is the first to allow for efficient, scalable and individualized assessment of drug target vulnerabilities directly in patient tumor samples