Testing for cancer might soon be as simple as drawing a vial of blood. That is the ultimate promise of Guardant Health (GH) , a precision oncology company.
The Redwood City, Calif., company came public last October, and it was a humdinger. Even after bumping the initial offing price to $19, from a range of $15 to $17, shares still jumped 70%. And that was only the beginning.
Investors should pay attention. This stock has plenty of room to run.
It's hard not to like Guardant since the story is so good. The company is using cutting edge big data, machine learning and genomic sequencing techniques to help clinicians diagnose cancer cheaper and more effectively. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a test capable of detection.
Helmy Eltoukhy, chief executive officer and co-founder, is a genomics wunderkind. The Stanford grad developed the first semiconductor sequencing platform while working on his PhD at Stanford Genome Technology Center (SGTC). He founded Avantome in 2007, a sequencing firm acquired by Illumina (ILMN) only a year later.
In his new role as senior director of advanced technology research at Illumina, Eltoukhy paired up with Amir Ali Talasaz, the senior director of diagnostics research, and a fellow SGTC alumni. Amir Ali's company, Auriphex Biosciences, also acquired by Illumina in 2008, performed advanced research on circulating tumor cells for cancer treatment.
The pair formed Guardant Health in 2012.
That kind of star power attracts capital. Prior to its IPO, the company had seven funding rounds, raising $550 million from the likes of Softbank (SFTBY) , Sequoia Capital, T. Rowe Price, Khosla Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Because a piece of the physical tumor is required, cancer tests always invasive. In an October 2018 interview with CNBC, Eltoukhy claimed a lung cancer biopsy costs $14,000, and has a complication rate of 19%. But the same information can be gleaned from a Guardant test with only two teaspoons of blood, which can be drawn frequently to track how the tumor is mutating with medication and treatment.
Guardant's secret sauce is applying digital communication algorithms to the process of DNA sequencing. Whereas tissue biopsies look at the tumor only, their process reveals the entire genome. It also means the science works across all cancers. Moreover, the company asserts its system of its machine learning, coupled with big data analytics lead to a vast reduction in the error rate.
The current business model involves payments from traditional health insurers striving to cut costs, and big pharmaceutical companies looking for patients for clinical trials for new drugs.
Those sources led to 97% revenue growth in fiscal 2017, the most recent period reported. And while total sales of $49.8 million is miniscule, the real story of Guardant is one of potential.
The company is at the intersection of data science and life sciences. It is well into its plan to use its liquid biopsy test on 1 million patients by 2022. If successful, it would bring a treasure trove of data.
It might also deliver on Guardant's promise to develop a test for cancer detection.
The play for investors now is the run-up to that goal. Every step forward will push the stock price higher. At the recent low of $32 per share in December 2018, the company announced a partnership with AstraZenenca (AZN) . In January, Guardant managers announced the launch of Lunar Assay, a new blood based test for early stage cancers.
Shares are currently breaking out over their post-IPO range, which is bullish. Put it on your radar.
To learn more about Jon Markman's recommendations at the crossroads of culture and technology, check out his daily investment newsletter Strategic Advantage. To learn about Markman's practical research in the short-term timing of market indexes and commodities, check out his daily newsletter Invariant Futures.