There’s an “Arms Race” in Early Cancer Detection Start-Ups, and SoftBank Just Plowed $360 Million into One of Them

The liquid biopsy space is increasingly full of up-and-coming new companies hoping to pave the way for an enhanced set of diagnostic tests and treatments for cancer. But this kind of technology, while more possible scientifically than ever before, requires a huge amount of funding. That’s why the news lately has been full of healthcare start-ups trumpeting their impressive achievements when it comes to getting investors on board.

Most recently, Silicon Valley’s Guardant Health acquired $360 million from a round of fundraising led by technology conglomerate SoftBank. This brings Guardant’s total funding to $500 million so far.

Investors may have been drawn to Guardant because the company has already seen some success in the field with Guardant360, a blood draw test used by doctors to help them monitor and track patient response to cancer treatment.

When it comes to cancer treatment and detection funding, however, no one has achieved the same kind of success as Illumina’s spinout GRAIL, which has raised nearly $1 billion so far. GRAIL is led by former Google executive Jeff Huber, who joined the cause after his wife died from cancer.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for these companies at the moment is that, while their dreams are big, the real world applications of their new technologies haven’t seen much testing yet. That’s where investors come in, supporting companies like GRAIL and Guardant in their quests to make real change in cancer detection and treatment.

And the competition between these companies is likely the help, in the end.

“It’s now an arms race,” said Sabah Oney, a geneticist and business development lead at Alector, a testing company also based in the Silicon Valley. “It’s rapidly becoming a big data problem, and everyone is looking for the silver bullet.”

Read the full CNBC coverage here.