Israeli startup OncoHost predicts which specialized therapies will be most effective for late-stage cancer
Cancer care is hit or miss. While some treatments can help specific patients, the same therapy could also have no effect or even cause further damage to others. A new blood test developed by an Israeli company offers doctors an additional layer of information to help decide which cancer treatments can work for each patient.
OncoHost’s PROphet blood test is aimed at patients with late-stage non-small-cell lung cancer. New technologies for cancer treatment can be highly effective, but only for certain patients. Often, doctors have no way of knowing which will work until the patient is months into the treatment.
“A physician considering a treatment for his patients that includes immunotherapy can run the test in order to get better visibility on what the patient’s journey will look like,” says Dr. Ofer Sharon, the CEO of OncoHost. “We want to allow the clinicians to make the decisions earlier and add valuable clinical insights to support the complex decision-making process that every oncologist faces when treating a patient with advanced cancer.”
With just one blood test, PROphet analyzes over 7,000 proteins, and then uses machine-learning tools and artificial intelligence to characterize, analyze, and anticipate which treatment is likely to work based on a patient’s individual patterns. It can also help doctors decide on alternative therapies that could be used to overcome a patient’s resistance.
This information is critical for cancer patients whose doctors are considering immunotherapy — a highly effective alternative to chemotherapy — which strengthens the immune system to fight off the cancer rather than attacking the cancer cells directly. But immunotherapy only works for a minority of patients. Until now, doctors had little way of knowing which patients would respond.
The test predicts outcomes with remarkably high accuracy at three months, six months, and one-year markers. The clinical validation of the PROphet platform is based on trials of more than 700 patients at 35 sites around the world conducted by OncoHost. As the database of patient profiles expands, the tests will get even more accurate.
“They can really profile the patients into groups of patients that will respond to the treatment and those that will not respond. It looks rather promising,” says Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel laureate in chemistry and distinguished research professor in the faculty of medicine at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, who is a member of OncoHost’s board of scientific advisers.
“The idea is to predict ahead of time biological markers in the treatment of tumors,” Prof. Ciechanover says. “As we know, people are different from one another. Each of us reacts differently to different drugs. The idea is to find a profile of proteins and other components that predict with high certainty whether the treatment that you are giving a patient will be successful or not.”
“Until now, cancer treatment has been what I call one-size-fits-all. We bombarded the patient with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, with enormous side effects,” Ciechanover says. “Now we are narrowing it. We are going to be much more precise. We are going to provide treatment that has much fewer side effects. And we may discover new pathways that are involved in carcinogenesis, enabling us to develop new drugs.”
Ciechanover and Sharon will be among the speakers at “Investing in Precision Medicine,” an online event hosted by OurCrowd on March 28.
OncoHost is collaborating with leading academic and clinical partners including the Mayo Clinic, University of Miami, Roswell Park, Rutgers, Somalogic, and the National Health Service in the UK.
“Success with immunotherapy is not guaranteed in every patient, so this study is seeking to identify changes in proteins circulating in the blood which may help doctors to choose the best treatment for each patient,” says Dr. David Farrugia, an NHS consultant medical oncologist and chief investigator of all eight NHS clinical trial sites in the UK.
OncoHost plans to expand to providing tests for other common cancers, Sharon says, including urogenital cancers and head and neck cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, cirrhosis, and lupus.
OncoHost’s technology is part of the groundbreaking field of precision medicine, where treatment is individualized to each patient. Previously, precision medicine was focused on DNA markers and mutations, but this is a static picture, Sharon explains. By focusing on blood proteins, the PROphet test allows doctors a much more dynamic, real-time analysis of how a course of medicine is expected to interact with a patient over time.
“When we run a blood test before treatment, we can predict the disease’s trajectory,” Sharon says. “When we measure proteins, by proxy we’re measuring biological processes. It’s that downstream view that allows us to get a very wide picture on the interaction between the tumor, the patient’s body, and the therapy.”
OncoHost opened a new laboratory facility in North Carolina in January and is planning to launch commercially in the US this year. The company is also in talks to open a regional lab in Abu Dhabi. Its financial trajectory is also looking up, with revenues projected to increase sevenfold over the next two years.