Oncohost nabs $8M series B round for AI-powered precision oncology platform
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New funding to the tune of $8 million in series B investment moves Oncohost Ltd. a good bit closer to bringing its personalized immunotherapy prediction platform to market and key operations to the U.S. Ourcrowd, an investment platform that simplifies investment by accredited investors and others in startups, early-stage companies and venture funds, led the round. Other participants included a group of family offices and private investors.
“As the renowned entrepreneur Marc Andreesen said, ‘Software will the eat world,’ and Oncohost is proving that software will help eat cancer,” said Ourcrowd CEO, Jon Medved. “We are excited about leading this important funding round for such a transformational company. Oncohost is demonstrating that smart software can take an already promising technology such as immunotherapy and make it so much smarter.”
The cash infusion will facilitate opening a U.S.-based affiliate with local management, clinical operations, and clinical support teams as well as a CLIA-certified lab. In addition, the fundraising round will help the company expand clinical trials for its platform to include more locations in the U.S., U.K., and Europe, while adding two new indications beyond melanoma and non-small-cell lung cancer, Oncohost CEO Ofer Sharon told BioWorld.
“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,” said Sharon. “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. We look forward to what 2021 holds for Oncohost.”
Predicting response to immunotherapy
Prophet, Oncohost’s artificial intelligence-driven platform, tackles several challenges associated with immunotherapy in oncology: the small number of patients who respond to specific therapies, the high cost and side effects in patients who derive no benefit, and the paradoxical stimulation of tumor growth in some non-responders. It could also identify new compounds to overcome treatment resistance.
The Benjamina, Israel-based company’s system analyzes changes in proteins in a patient’s plasma before and after treatment to build a host response profile that indicates how the therapy is changing the patient’s biological processes. Machine learning algorithms trained on these profiles can identify a proteomic signature that distinguishes between responders and non-responders for specific therapies. Advanced bioinformatic tools then highlight the biological pathways and driver proteins that define each type of response.
A study presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in September 2020 identified a three-protein signature that distinguished between responders and non-responders to anti-PD-1 therapy in stage 4 non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with an area under the curve of at least 0.82 and sensitivity and specificity of approximately 0.9 and 0.6, respectively. Previous research identified a 10-protein signature that predicted response to anti-PD-1 monotherapy and an anti-PD-1/anti-CTLA-4 combination in melanoma.
Both studies also showed how the therapies activated the inflammatory and metastatic biological pathways in non-responders. They also identified proteins and potential combination therapies that might reduce resistance in these patients and serve as a basis for new therapies.
Expanding clinical trials
Oncohost currently has trials in process in Israel targeting melanoma and NSCLC. Trials for those indications in the U.S., which were delayed by the pandemic, are now running in numerous institutions and several hundred of a planned 2,000 participants have been enrolled so far across all sites, Ofer said.
The company plans to expand its trials to include head and neck cancer and urogenital cancers shortly. A previously registered trial in glioblastoma has been put on hold due to COVID-19, according to Ofer. Immunotherapies studied so far include Keytruda with and without chemotherapy, nivolumab, and nivolumab plus ipilimumab.
While the company is focused initially on “ongoing monitoring of treatment effectiveness and identification of potential combination strategies in advanced lines” of cancer therapy, Oncohost’s executives have “begun speaking with pharma and are planning pilots – watch this space,” Ofer advised.
Oncohost has also started working on a reimbursement strategy with a Washington-based law firm and a consulting group. Getting paid for specific analyses is just one part of the strategy. Predicting which of the very expensive immunotherapies is most likely to benefit a patient and which could worsen their outcomes has considerable value to players across the health care system. Prophet could well attract interest from many organizations interested in driving utilization of a platform that allows physicians and patients to avoid therapies destined to be ineffective across cancer types as Prophet appears to have the potential to do.