Ofer Sharon, OncoHost CEO

Can On­co­Host's PROphet pre­dict host re­sponse to can­cer treat­ments? In­vestors are wait­ing to find out

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.

A new era of treat­ment: How bio­mark­ers are chang­ing the way we think about can­cer

AJ Patel was recovering from a complicated brain surgery when his oncologist burst into the hospital room yelling, “I’ve got some really great news for you!”

For two years, Patel had been going from doctor to doctor trying to diagnose his wheezing, only to be dealt the devastating news that he had stage IV lung cancer and only six months to live. And then they found the brain tumors.

“What are you talking about?” Patel asked. He had never seen an oncologist so happy.

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Robert Califf (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP Images)

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