Tech

OncoHost raises $8 million to develop AI that predicts cancer treatment responses

OncoHost, a company developing AI technology to characterize, analyze, and predict patient response to treatment, today announced it raised $8 million. The company says the funds will be used to finance OncoHost’s ongoing clinical trials, open a U.S.-based affiliate, and prepare for the upcoming launch of the company’s AI-based host response profiling platform.

The death rate from cancer declined by 2.2% from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop ever, according to the American Cancer Society. But there’s an upward trend in cancer incidence. People born since 1960 will have at least a one-in-two chance of getting cancer over their lifetime, according to a recent study. While some cancers, like breast cancer, have a five-year relative survival rate of nearly 100%, others are difficult to treat and have high rates of recurrence. For example, glioblastoma and ovarian cancer recurs in nearly all patients, regardless of treatment.

OncoHost is a clinical stage precision oncology company developing a platform for predicting responsiveness to cancer therapies. Yuval Shaked, a member of Technion’s department of cell biology and cancer research, cofounded OncoHost in 2017 based on his research demonstrating that cancer therapies induce a range of unintended effects in healthy tissue, some which can promote tumor aggressiveness.

Cancer treatment modalities including immunotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted drugs, radiation, and surgery can trigger a range of physiological reactions in patients, Shaked says. These effects include elevated levels of cytokines, a broad and loose category of small proteins important in cell signaling, as well as growth factors, enzymes, and chemokines (a subcategory of cytokines) in the blood. OncoHost’s technology aims to identify and characterize responses to treatments and discover new targets to overcome treatment resistance.

Applying AI to predict cancer treatment response isn’t a new idea. A recent study published in Clinical Cancer Research found that an algorithm trained on standard CT scans could anticipate tumor response in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer. And in June, researchers in France launched a new trial to monitor patients for immune-related markers, gut microbiota, pharmacokinetics, pharmacogenomics, pharmacogenetics, and multiple biological parameters using an AI system.

But OncoHost uniquely analyzes changes in blood to monitor the dynamics of biological processes in response to a given cancer therapy, and to identify potential drug targets. The company’s lab uses protein analysis technology to determine the levels of thousands of proteins associated with therapy resistance and tumor spread in a single plasma sample. By analyzing these levels, OncoHost says it’s able to monitor a patient’s response to treatment in real time.

OncoHost says it’s established a preclinical program to test the efficacy of novel drug combinations in tumor models in mice. Moreover, the company says it’s launching a clinical trial for glioblastoma patients undergoing standard-of-care therapy.

“This investment round supports our mission to better predict response to immunotherapy and identify personalized treatment options for cancer patients, as we continue to expand our collaboration with pharma on clinical trials and drug development,” Shaked said. “Proteomic analysis is allowing us to make great advances in personalized cancer care, and we are grateful to our investors for their support in the midst of this particularly challenging time of a global pandemic. The future of personalized cancer care is no longer a distant reality, but within our reach.”

OurCrowd led the series B investment in Binyamina, Israel-based OncoHost, joined by a group of family offices and private investors. The round follows a $1 million grant from the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation, which OncoHost received together with its life sciences partner RayBiotech.

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