Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Exclusive: Chamath-led Social Capital backs cancer test startup

Illustration of a light blue ribbon glowing with binary code.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Chamath Palihapitiya-led Social Capital invested $4 million in renal disease diagnostics startup Early is Good, the firm tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Bladder cancer is one of the most expensive and commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S., with roughly 81,100 people expected to be diagnosed this year, yet few tools exist to spot the disease early.

  •  "It’s an unmet need you can address with tech at an affordable price," Early is Good (EIG) CEO Thakshila Liyanage tells Axios.

Details: Liyanage says Indianapolis-based EIG will use the funds to finish clinical trials for its first product, a lab-developed test for early bladder cancer detection called BCDx that assesses a panel of biomarkers found in urine.

What's next: EIG will raise a Series A in roughly a year, Liyanage says.

One un-fun thing: A recent scare with ovarian cancer lit a fire under Liyanage to speed the development of EIG's test.

  • "It made my purpose very clear," Liyanage says.

State of play: Venture capitalists have put more than $4.3 billion toward in vitro diagnostics thus far in 2022, per GlobalData. The rise is fueled by the pandemic, which in turn accelerated the development of at-home tests, and AI's increasing presence in disease detection. For example:

  • Digital Diagnostics, which uses AI to detect eye disease, collected $75 million in a KRR-led funding round in August.
  • Everly Health made plans this year to partner with a leading home cancer testing company to offer its early-detection test to members of employer health plans, Axios wrote in February.
  • Delfi Diagnostics, whose tests analyze cell-free DNA fragments in an effort to spot multiple types of cancer, raised $225 million in Series B financing in July.

How it worked: People with bladder cancer are typically alerted to the disease when they spot blood in their urine, one sign of the condition.

  • They can then get a cytology, a noninvasive way to look for cancer cells in urine, or a cystoscopy, an invasive procedure in which a doctor inserts a tube through the urethra to examine the bladder for symptoms.

Yes, but: Both techniques require cancer specialists to review the results and make a subjective call about whether or not someone has the disease.

  • Enter EIG's test, which looks at a range of biomarkers and doesn't require extraction or amplification and uses a hybrid dual readout method, making it less subjective, Liyanage says.
Go deeper