TwinStrand raises $16M from Madrona and others for next-gen DNA sequencing, promising early cancer detection and other breakthroughs

Jesse Salk, TwinStrand’s CEO, chief scientific officer and co-founder. (TwinStrand Photo)

TwinStrand Biosciences, a Seattle startup developing next-generation DNA sequencing technology that promises to lead to early cancer detection, rapid identification of carcinogens and other breakthroughs, has raised $16 million in a Series A funding round led by Madrona Venture Group.

The company, a University of Washington spinout, says its DNA sequencing method, known as Duplex Sequencing, uses cloud technologies and advanced error-correction algorithms to allow researchers and clinicians to find rare genetic variants with 10,000 times more accuracy than standard sequencing techniques.

TwinStrand, which has just under 30 employees, is planning to launch its first product this quarter. Founded in 2015, it’s part of an emerging field of companies developing advanced DNA sequencing techniques in search of new insights into the human genetic code, building on advances pioneered in the Human Genome Project more than 15 years ago.

“We’re focused on really pushing the envelope to address completely unmet needs and advance what genetic analysis technology can do in the future — not just what’s possible now, but what we’re going to make possible a year, two years, three years down the road,” said Jesse Salk, TwinStrand’s CEO, chief scientific officer and co-founder, a molecular biologist and clinical oncologist who invented Duplex Sequencing with colleagues at the University of Washington.

Terry Myerson led Madrona’s investment in TwinStrand.

Madrona’s investment in TwinStrand was led by Terry Myerson, the former top Microsoft Windows and Devices executive who joined the firm as a venture partner last year. Myerson compared TwinStrand’s technology to error-correction techniques used in massive storage arrays in cloud data centers.

“When you’re doing high-scale software and storing terabytes of data on unreliable disc drives and replicating it around data centers, you have some very similar problems,” Myerson said. “To be able to do that with our DNA has incredible potential.”

TwinStrand says its technology has applications including monitoring for residual cancer after treatment, in addition to early cancer detection. It enables personalized therapies and faster drug development, and also significantly speeds up the process of genetic toxicology, determining whether specific chemicals are carcinogens by analyzing the genetic impact.

Other potential applications include crime scene forensics and diagnosing fetal genetic health.

TwinStrand Graphic

Other investors participating in the Series A round include Alexandria Venture Investments, Ridgeback Capital and Sahsen Ventures. Of the round, $12 million was new capital, and $4 million was converted from notes previously issued to the company. TwinStrand previously raised $5.5 million in seed funding and $6.4 million in Small Business Innovation Research grants.

TwinStrand says it will use the new funding to accelerate its product pipeline and support the growth of its corporate infrastructure and pharmaceutical partnerships.

Myerson has joined the TwinStrand board with the investment. He said Madrona is paying close attention to the intersection of computer science and life sciences, and expects those areas to produce much more innovation in the years ahead.

Salk said Seattle’s strength as a technology hub positions it to emerge as a stronger center for next-generation biotech ventures, alongside existing life sciences areas such as San Diego and Boston.

Others on the TwinStrand board include OVP Venture Partners managing director Chad Waite and former Alder Biopharmaceuticals chairman Steve Dow.

Salk is the grandson of the late Jonas Salk, the scientist who discovered and developed the polio vaccine. Asked about his grandfather in an interview with GeekWire, the TwinStrand CEO said the relationship “had a pretty sizable impact on how I view what I do with my life, and how I work in scientific teams and contribute to the broader community.”

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