Can OncoHost’s PROphet predict host response to cancer treatments? Investors are waiting to find out
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Last year, a small biotech out of Israel scored a modest $8 million in a Series B to help finance clinical trials and prepare for the upcoming launch of its main product, a machine learning-based diagnostics platform. Recently, the biotech went back for more — and got it.
OncoHost announced Tuesday morning that it successfully raised $35 million in a Series C financing round led by Israeli healthtech VC ALIVE, with additional investors including the Series B lead investor, OurCrowd. As to the company’s first goal, it is focusing on the commercial launch of its platform named PROphet, which CEO Ofer Sharon told Endpoints News is slated to launch sometime in Q3 this year — firstly in the US.
The commercial launch is the first part of the biotech’s three-front approach for the financing, according to Sharon, with the other two fronts being a focus on pipeline development and increasing indications for PROphet.
“A lot of the funding that was secured is going to be directed to the commercial launch of the product. We already have in place the technical abode, or team, but we are going to invest a lot in expanding the team, adding marketing and sales positions,” Sharon said. He also added that the biotech is looking to have 50 employees by year’s end, more than double its current count of 20 or so employees.
The $35 million should last OncoHost for 2 years, according to the CEO.
The PROphet platform, according to Sharon, is an effort to take advantage of “host response,” or the body’s response specifically to different anti-cancer treatments — something that had been under research at the integrated Cancer Research Center at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Sharon elaborated that from his view, the body’s response to certain cancer treatments such as immunotherapies, targeted therapies and chemotherapy doesn’t always end up working against the tumor — but rather ends up working against the body in what he called cancer resistance.
In short, the biotech has gone the proteomics route. The company’s platform works by analyzing two blood samples: the first approximately a month before treatment, and the second approximately 2-4 weeks after the first treatment dose. Lab technicians then separate plasma from the blood and measure the levels of approximately 7,000 proteins in that plasma. Essentially, the platform looks for the overexpression of certain proteins and uses that information to predict a patient’s “response trajectory” to certain treatments in the first 3, 6 and 12 months.
Being able to predict certain aspects of host response and drug responsiveness via blood tests is somewhat new, and there are other companies looking to utilize a similar approach. Precision med biotech Scipher Medicine has a whole blood test to identify “disease signatures,” also known as gene expression data currently for anti-TNF drugs. It has its own plans to expand after netting over $100 million in a round backed by Khosla Ventures and Northpond Ventures earlier this year.
As a doctor by training and formerly a medical director for both AstraZeneca’s and Merck’s Israeli divisions, Sharon said that the proteomics test only tells a partial story.
“You know what’s going to be the clinical trajectory for your patient for the first 12 months. This is, of course, not enough. It’s not enough for clinicians, because it’s not good enough to tell a clinician that the patient is not going to respond. Because as a clinician, what you want to do is treat your patients,” Sharon added.
That leads to the second part of the machine-learning platform, which takes a look at the “resistance-associated” proteins and pathways and tries to correlate them to either existing drugs or candidates in ongoing, Phase II and III clinical trials.
OncoHost’s platform is starting out with one indication: NSCLC. However, the company is looking at adding indications for melanoma and small cell lung cancer. And in terms of pipeline development, proteomics was only the first stop. While Sharon wouldn’t say too much about details, the company is looking at expanding to the microbiome, single-cell analysis and cell-free DNA over the next few years. As to how long that might take until people see something substantive, OncoHost is going to do two trials with drastically different timetables.
“We can do two things here. If we are going for a proof of concept, we will aim our clinical trial at stage IV metastatic cancer patients, where the follow-up period, fortunately, is relatively short. It’s good for the company in terms of the ability to understand early,” Sharon said, adding that most of the industry is looking at earlier stages of disease — which can take longer to get results.
That said, the first trial is looking at stage IV cancer patients with a two-year follow-up, and an upcoming study will be launched sometime in the near future looking at patients in earlier stages of cancer with a follow-up period of five years. While Sharon emphasized the company’s need to be patient, he added that from his view, the overall benefit in terms of clinical value will be much higher.