C2i, a genomics SaaS product to detect traces of cancer, raises $100M Series B

If you or a loved one has ever undergone a tumor removal as part of cancer treatment, you’re likely familiar with the period of uncertainty and fear that follows. Will the cancer return, and if so, will the doctors catch it at an early enough stage? C2i Genomics has developed software that’s 100x more sensitive in detecting residual disease, and investors are pouncing on the potential. Today, C2i announced a $100 million Series B led by Casdin Capital. 

“The biggest question in cancer treatment is, ‘Is it working?’ Some patients are getting treatment they don’t benefit from and they are suffering the side effects while other patients are not getting the treatment they need,” said Asaf Zviran, co-founder and CEO of C2i Genomics in an interview.

Historically, the main approach to cancer detection post-surgery has been through the use of MRI or X-ray, but neither of those methods gets super accurate until the cancer progresses to a certain point. As a result, a patient’s cancer may return, but it may be a while before doctors are able to catch it.

Using C2i’s technology, doctors can order a liquid biopsy, which is essentially a blood draw that looks for DNA. From there they can sequence the entire genome and upload it to the C2i platform. The software then looks at the sequence and identifies faint patterns that indicate the presence of cancer, and can inform if it’s growing or shrinking.

“C2i is basically providing the software that allows the detection and monitoring of cancer to a global scale. Every lab with a sequencing machine can process samples, upload to the C2i platform and provide detection and monitoring to the patient,” Zviran told TechCrunch.

C2i Genomics’ solution is based on research performed at the New York Genome Center (NYGC) and Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) by Dr. Zviran, along with Dr. Dan Landau, faculty member at the NYGC and assistant professor of medicine at WCM, who serves as scientific co-founder and member of C2i’s scientific advisory board. The research and findings have been published in the medical journal, Nature Medicine.

While the product is not FDA-approved yet, it’s already being used in clinical research and drug development research at NYU Langone Health, the National Cancer Center of Singapore, Aarhus University Hospital and Lausanne University Hospital.

When and if approved, New York-based C2i has the potential to drastically change cancer treatment, including in the areas of organ preservation. For example, some people have functional organs, such as the bladder or rectum, removed to prevent cancer from returning, leaving them disabled. But what if the unnecessary surgeries could be avoided? That’s one goal that Zviran and his team have their minds set on achieving.

For Zviran, this story is personal. 

“I started my career very far from cancer and biology, and at the age of 28 I was diagnosed with cancer and I went for surgery and radiation. My father and then both of my in-laws were also diagnosed, and they didn’t survive,” he said.

Zviran, who today has a PhD in molecular biology, was previously an engineer with the Israeli Defense Force and some private companies. “As an engineer, looking into this experience, it was very alarming to me about the uncertainty on both the patients’ and physicians’ side,” he said.

This round of funding will be used to accelerate clinical development and commercialization of the company’s C2-Intelligence Platform. Other investors that participated in the round include NFX, Duquesne Family Office, Section 32 (Singapore), iGlobe Partners and Driehaus Capital.

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Bristol entrepreneur who exited for $800M doubles-down on the city with deep-tech incubator and VC fund

Harry Destecroix co-founded Ziylo while studying for his PhD at the University of Bristol. Ziylo, a university spin-out company, developed a synthetic molecule allowing glucose to bind with the bloodstream more effectively. Four years later, and by then a Phd, Destecroix sold the company to Danish firm Novo Nordisk, one of the biggest manufacturers of diabetes medicines, which had realized it could use Ziylo’s molecule to develop a new type of insulin to help diabetics. He walked away with an estimated $800m.

Destecroix is now embarking on a project, “Science Creates”, to repeat the exercise of creating deep-tech, science-based startups, and it will once more be based out of Bristol.

To foster this deep tech ecosystem it will offer a specialized incubator space able to house Wet Labs, a £15 million investment fund and a network of strategic partners to nurture science and engineering start-ups and spin-outs.

The Science Creates hub, in partnership with the University of Bristol and located in the heart of the city, is aspiring to become a sort of ‘West Coast’ for England, and the similarities, at least with an earlier version of Silicon Valley, are striking.

The Bay Area of old was cheaper than the East Coast of the US, had a cornerstone university, access to capital, and plenty of talent. Bristol has all that and for capital, it can access London, less than 90 minutes by train. But what it’s lacked until now is a greater level of “clustering” and startup-focused organization, which is clearly what Destecroix is planning to fix.

In a statement for the launch, he explained: “Where a discovery is made has a huge bearing on whether it’s successfully commercialized. While founding my own start-up, Ziylo, I became aware of just how many discoveries failed to emerge from the lab in Bristol alone. No matter the quality of the research and discovery, the right ecosystem is fundamental if we are going to challenge the global 90% failure rate of science start-ups, and create many more successful ventures.”

Science Creates is be grown out of the original incubator, Unit DX, that Destecroix set up in collaboration with the University of Bristol in 2017 to commercialize companies like his own.

The Science Creates team

The Science Creates team

The ‘Science Creates ecosystem’ will comprise of:

Science Creates Incubators: Unit DX houses 37 scientific and engineering companies working on healthtech, the environment and quality of life. The opening of a second incubator, Unit DY, close to Bristol Temple Meads train station, will mean it can support 100 companies and an estimated 450 jobs. The Science Creates’ physical footprint across the two units will reach 45,000 sq ft.

Science Creates Ventures: This £15 million EIS venture capital fund is backed by the Bristol-based entrepreneurs behind some of the South-West’s biggest deep tech exits.

Science Creates Network: This will be a portfolio of strategic partners, mentors and advisors tailored to the needs of science and engineering start-ups.

Destecroix is keen that the startups nurtured there will have more than “Wi-Fi and strong coffee” but also well-equipped lab space as well as sector-specific business support.

He’s betting that Bristol, with its long history of academic and industrial research, world-class research base around the University of Bristol, will be able to overcome the traditional challenges towards the commercialization of deep tech and science-based startups.

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President at the University of Bristol, commented: “We are delighted to support the vision and help Science Creates to build a thriving deep tech ecosystem in our home city. Great scientists don’t always know how to be great entrepreneurs, but we’ve seen the impact specialist support can have in helping them access the finance, networks, skills, and investment opportunities they need. Working with Science Creates, we aim to support even more ground-breaking discoveries to progress outside the university walls, and thrive as successful commercial ventures that change our world for the better.”

Ventures in Unit DX so far include:
– Imophoron (a vaccine tech start-up that is reinventing how vaccines are made and work – currently working on a COVID vaccine)
– Cytoseek (a discovery-stage biotech working on cell therapy cancer treatment)
– Anaphite (graphine-based science for next gen battery technology).

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Destecroix went on to say: “After my startup exited I just got really interested in this idea that, where discovery is actually founded has a huge bearing on whether something is actually commercialized or not. The pandemic has really taught us there is a hell of a lot more – especially in the life sciences, and environmental sciences – that has still yet to be discovered. Vaccines are based on very old technology and take a while to develop.”

“Through this whole journey, I started trying to understand it from an economic perspective. How do we get more startups to emerge? To lower those barriers? I think first of all there’s a cultural problem, especially with academically-focused universities whereby entrepreneurship a dirty word. I had to go against many of my colleagues in the early days to spin out, then obviously universities own all the IP. And so you’ve got to go through the tech transfer office etc and depending on what university you are at, whether it’s Imperial, Cambridge or Oxford, they’re all different. So, and I put the reason why there were no deep terch startups in Bristol down to the fact that there was no incubator space, and not enough investment.”

“I’ve now made about 14 angel investments. Bristol has now catapulted from 20th in the league tables for life sciences to six in the country in the last three years and this is largely due to the activities that we’ve been helping to encourage. So we’ve helped streamline licensing processes for the university, and I’ve helped cornerstone a lot of these deals which has resulted in a wave of these technology startups coming in.”

“I thought, now’s the time to professionalize this and launch a respectable Bristol-based venture capital firm that specializes in deep technologies.”

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Lucid Lane has developed a service to get patients off of pain meds and avoid addiction

Four years ago, Adnan Asar, the founder of the new addiction prevention service Lucid Lane, was enjoying a successful career working as the founding chief technology officer at Livongo Health. It was the serial senior tech executive’s most recent job after a long stint at Shutterfly and he was shepherding the company through the development of its suite of hardware and software for the management of chronic conditions.

But when Asar’s wife was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he stepped away from the technology world to be with his family while she underwent treatment.

He did not know at the time that the decision would set him on the path to founding Lucid Lane. The company’s mission is to help give patients who have been prescribed medications to address pain and anxiety ways to wean themselves off those drugs and avoid addiction — and its purpose is born from the struggle Asar witnessed as his wife wrestled with how to stop taking the medication she was prescribed during her illness.

Asar’s wife isn’t alone. In 2018, there were roughly 168.2 million prescriptions for opioids written in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lucid Lane estimates that 50 million people are prescribed opioids and another 13 million are prescribed benzodiazepines each year either after surgery or in conjunction with cancer treatments — all without a plan for how to manage or taper the use of these highly addictive medications.

For Asar’s wife, it was the benzodiazepine prescribed as part of her cancer treatment that became an issue. “She was hit by very severe withdrawal symptoms and we didn’t know what was going on,” Asar said. When they consulted her physician he gave the couple two options — quitting cold turkey or remaining on the medication.

“My wife decided to go cold turkey,” Asar said. “It was really debilitating for the whole family.”

It took nine months of therapy and regular consultations with psychiatrists to help with tailoring medication dosages and tapering to get her off of the medication, said Asar. And that experience led to the launch of Lucid Lane.

“Our goal is to prevent and control medication and substance dependence,” Asar said.

The company’s telehealth solution is built on a proprietary treatment protocol meant to provide continuous daily support and interventions, along with proactive monitoring of a personalized treatment plan — all on an ongoing basis, said Asar. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic is only accelerating the need for telehealth services. “COVID-19 has made telehealth a mandatory service instead of a discretionary service,” said Asar. “There’s a surge in anxiety, depression, substance use and medication use. We’re seeing a surge of patients who are reaching out to us.”

Asar sees Lucid Lane’s competitors as companies like Lyra Health and Ginger, or point solutions building digital diagnostics to detect anxiety and depression. But unlike some companies that are launching to treat addiction or addictive behaviors, Asar sees his startup as preventing dependency and addiction.

“A lot of people are sliding into these addictions through something that happens at the doctor’s office,” said Asar. ” Our solution does not prescribe any of these medications.”

The company is working on clinical studies that are set to start at the Palo Alto VA hospital, and has raised $4 million in seed funding from investors including Battery Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures, the investment firm founded by Jerry Yang.

“We see great potential for Lucid Lane, as it has developed a scalable solution to one of the biggest problems facing society today,” said Battery general partner Dharmesh Thakker, in a statement. “Telehealth solutions have emerged as highly capable of addressing complex problems, and Lucid Lane has embraced remote care from its beginning. Its design enables care anytime, anywhere for patients in their moment of need. This can make a tremendous difference in the battle between recovery and relapse. We believe that it will help millions of people lead better lives.”

Joining Asar in the development of the company and its healthcare protocols are a seasoned team of health professionals, including Dr. Ahmed Zaafran, a board certified anesthesiologist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and assistant professor of anesthesiology (affiliated) at Stanford University School of Medicine; and advisors like Dr. Vanila Singh, who was also previously chairperson of the HHS Task Force in conjunction with the DOD and the VA to address the opioid drug crisis; Dr. Carin Hagberg, the chair of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine of MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Sherif Zaafran, the president of the Texas Medical Board and chair of multiple national committees on pain management, including the subcommittee Taskforce on Pain Management Services for HHS, as well as the department’s Pain Clinical Pathways Committee.

“Lucid Lane provides a patient-centered solution that allows for the best clinical outcomes for patients after surgery and those bravely finishing chemotherapy,” said Dr. Singh, in a statement. “For the many patients who require short-term opioids and benzodiazepine medications, Lucid Lane’s treatment can limit the risk of prolonged dependence of these medications while also ensuring effective pain control with a resulting improved quality of life and functioning.”

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