Hillel's Tech Corner: Cancer treatment personalized

OncoHost combines life-science research and advanced machine-learning technology to develop personalized strategies to maximize the success of cancer therapy.

Scientist preforming a test (photo credit: Courtesy)
Scientist preforming a test
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I don’t know if it’s just me and the fact that I am getting older, or if it’s just the very sad reality, but I feel like cancer is everywhere I look. I mean, who doesn’t know someone affected by this horrible disease?
As more and more friends and colleagues cope with the unspeakable challenges of cancer, we learn to expect certain things about the journey. The hair loss, the post-chemo sickness, and for some, the inevitable reality of the treatment not working as expected.
Did you ever stop to think about that for a second? How is it that with all this cutting-edge technology and advanced research about cancer, its treatment is still hit or miss, or more like throwing something at a wall and hoping it sticks? There has to be a better way to know what treatment will work for what patient before actually putting them through the challenges associated with the treatment.
Enter OncoHost.
OncoHost combines life-science research and advanced machine-learning technology to develop personalized strategies to maximize the success of cancer therapy. By analyzing the patient’s proteins, instead of the usual DNA/RNA testing that has been done up until now, the company aims to understand patients’ unique response to therapy and overcome one of the major obstacles in clinical oncology today – resistance to therapy. OncoHost was founded in 2017 following more than a decade of academic research that was led by chief scientific adviser Prof. Yuval Shaked, who also serves as the head of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Integrated Cancer Center, and as president of the International Cancer Microenvironment Society.
To date, many studies have focused on how genetic mutations and other changes contribute to drug resistance. However, in recent years, it has been proven that the patient’s body generates pro-tumor effects in response to almost any type of anti-cancer therapy, including immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and targeted drugs. This means that there’s a chance the chosen cancer treatment for the patient won’t actually be effective. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recently recognized the need to identify strategies that better predict response to immunotherapy as one of the top nine research priorities to accelerate progress against cancer.
This is important, because only 20%-40% of patients respond to immunotherapy, and because these drugs can activate a broad range of immune cells, they can sometimes trigger severe auto-immune reactions. If a patient’s response to the treatment can be predicted, treatment costs will be saved, and patients can be spared from side-effects.
So what does this company actually do? In simple terms, it helps doctors see the patient behind the tumor. Its technology helps more cancer patients benefit from immunotherapy by offering truly personalized cancer therapy.
OncoHost’s host-response profiling platform, which they call PROphetTM (I see what you did there!) analyzes proteomic (protein-based) changes in blood samples to monitor the biological changes and processes that the patient (i.e., the host) experiences in response to a given cancer therapy. This proteomic profile is highly predictive of individual patient outcome, which enables the great need for personalized treatment planning. The platform identifies key biological processes and proteins that drive the host response in patients who respond negatively to treatment.
As for the company, the funding raised so far include a pre-seed round led by an American-Israeli family office called OM-MAYA, a seed round led by Caesarea Medical Electronics Holdings, followed by funding from the Israel Innovation Authority.
It’s worthwhile noting that the OncoHost team is comprised of numerous experienced multidisciplinary professionals. The company currently has 12 employees, half of them women, and 10 who hold a PhD or MD. The CEO, Ofer Sharon, MD, is a physician and entrepreneur with more than 17 years of experience in the oncology drug-development industry. He previously served as a chief medical officer and new technologies scout in companies such as Merck and AstraZeneca, and co-founded several healthcare companies.
As far as OncoHost’s target audience, its users are oncologists and their patients, who will be able to obtain the patient’s host response profile early in the treatment and make informed decisions regarding treatment options, lines of therapy, potential combinations and participation in clinical trials. For the patient, OncoHost provides a simple predictive blood test that helps their doctor tailor the treatment plan to improve the chance of success. For the oncologist, it provides clinical decision support systems to improve patient outcome and reduce unnecessary side effects.
The key trends driving the market are the high cost of immunotherapies (up to $120,000 per year), their low response rate (~25%) and the immune-related adverse events (hepatotoxicity, colitis, pneumonitis, etc.) which place pressure on the US and Israel health systems to prescribe these therapies only to those patients who will truly benefit from them.
OncoHost might not be curing cancer, but right after that, the most important aspect of any cancer patient’s journey is the ability to minimize the guessing game, maximize the effectiveness of treatment, and thereby make their lives that much more tolerable.
I am thankfully no expert on cancer, but I will say that there are not many things more devastating than watching a friend suffer through this painful process, receive treatments that the body doesn’t even know how to cope with, only to find out that they are not even working and they are back to square one. OncoHost is positioned as the leading company in host-response profiling, working to ensure that as many cancer patients as possible receive the correct treatment. I sure hope they accomplish their mission, and fast!