With a 'monopoly' on gly­co­pro­teomics, In­ter­Venn rais­es $34M to push can­cer di­ag­nos­tic in­to the clin­ic, woos Il­lu­mi­na BD ex­ec

For a few years now, ear­ly de­tec­tion of can­cer has been the sex­i­est top­ic in all of di­ag­nos­tics. With bil­lions of VC dol­lars poured in­to the pur­suit of tests to sniff out tu­mors ear­ly, the field is full of new ap­proach­es that promise to ac­cu­rate­ly pick up traces of can­cer, when pa­tients are more like­ly to be cured. But amid all the -omics — rang­ing from next-gen­er­a­tion ge­net­ic se­quenc­ing to high-through­put pro­tein screen­ing — one par­tic­u­lar type of mol­e­cule is al­ways ab­sent.

Al­do Car­ras­coso

What’s miss­ing is an analy­sis of pro­tein gly­co­sy­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­Venn Bio­sciences, which has just raised $34 mil­lion to com­mer­cial­ize its first di­ag­nos­tics.

While In­ter­Venn may lack the glam­our of big-mon­ey out­fits such as Grail (now ac­quired by Il­lu­mi­na), Thrive, Kar­ius, Seer and Freenome, the South San Fran­cis­co-based com­pa­ny boasts of two star founders who’ve spent years to un­earth the in­tri­ca­cies of gly­co­bi­ol­o­gy: Car­olyn Bertozzi of Stan­ford and Car­l­i­to Le­bril­la of UC Davis.

It’s al­so re­cruit­ed a new chief busi­ness of­fi­cer, John Leite, from di­ag­nos­tics gi­ant Il­lu­mi­na to scout deals for some of the 24 dif­fer­ent tests in the port­fo­lio.

In­ter­Venn CEO Al­do Car­ras­coso, whose en­tre­pre­neur­ial ef­forts have pre­vi­ous­ly re­volved around busi­ness man­age­ment, dig­i­tal me­dia and blockchain, crossed paths with the sci­en­tists af­ter his cousin, fol­low­ing his moth­er and a close rel­a­tive, suc­cumbed to breast can­cer in 2016. The fam­i­ly tried every type of se­quenc­ing to no avail. The in­tense frus­tra­tion in un­der­stand­ing what’s go­ing on even­tu­al­ly led him to Le­bril­la’s lab, where he took a blood test.

He wait­ed a few hours for the blood to be processed by the mass spec­trom­e­ter. Then he was asked to come back in 12 months.

Car­l­i­to Le­bril­la

“I said, what do you mean come back in 12 months?” Car­ras­coso re­called to End­points News. The stu­dents and post­docs need­ed the time to run through the da­ta, re­peat­ing the process a few hun­dred thou­sand times to iden­ti­fy spec­tral sig­na­tures.

He had an idea of how you can su­per­charge what they were do­ing and trans­form the “in­sane process” with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence — a re­cur­rent neur­al net­work to be spe­cif­ic — and Le­bril­la took in­ter­est. The next year was spent build­ing a hand-cu­rat­ed dataset of gly­co­pro­teomics and us­ing it to train their first neur­al net­work.

The re­sult­ing al­go­rithm could spit out re­sults in 12 min­utes, some­times even 12 sec­onds.

John Leite

“That was the biggest bot­tle­neck for Car­l­i­to Le­bril­la and Car­olyn Bertozzi,” Car­ras­coso said. “The abil­i­ty to man­age the im­mense in­for­ma­tion that gly­co­pro­teomics gen­er­ate. It’s just over­whelm­ing for sci­en­tists.”

Through run­ning sam­ples for bio­phar­ma, hos­pi­tal and aca­d­e­m­ic clients, In­ter­Venn has dis­cov­ered bio­mark­ers that formed the ba­sis of 24 di­ag­nos­tics. In ear­ly 2021 they hope to com­plete en­roll­ment of a tri­al to com­pare its pan­el, VO­CAL, against the wide­ly used CA 125.

Af­ter that comes a slew of tests for re­nal, lung, liv­er, prostate, pan­cre­at­ic, na­sopha­ryn­geal, col­orec­tal can­cer and oth­ers, all con­sist­ing of dis­tinct sets of gly­copep­tides. In­ter­Venn al­so sees po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tion of its tech in im­muno-on­col­o­gy, where it may help drug de­vel­op­ers iden­ti­fy the pa­tients who would ben­e­fit from ther­a­pies that to­day on­ly helps 20% to 30% of pa­tients.

Er­win Es­ti­gar­rib­ia

“That’s some­thing that to­day doesn’t ex­ist,” COO Er­win Es­ti­gar­rib­ia, a vet­er­an of the di­ag­nos­tics space, said.

The re­al test lies ahead. With­out for­mal FDA ap­proval, In­ter­Venn’s pan­els must be processed cen­tral­ly at its San Fran­cis­co fa­cil­i­ty. But there’s a plan to ex­pand the over­sub­scribed ser­vice, not just by ex­pand­ing ca­pac­i­ty but ob­tain­ing reg­u­la­to­ry clear­ance to al­low oth­ers to run their di­ag­nos­tics, com­plete with a “plat­form ag­nos­tic” soft­ware that can han­dle da­ta from any mass spec­trom­e­ter. With the new cash com­ing in from Anzu Part­ners, Genoa Ven­tures, Am­pli­fy Part­ners, True Ven­tures, Xer­aya Cap­i­tal and the Oj­jeh Fam­i­ly, Car­ras­coso ex­pects the head­count to grow dra­mat­i­cal­ly from the cur­rent 50.

But for now, In­ter­Venn is con­tent oc­cu­py­ing what the CEO de­scribes as a mo­nop­oly.

“I wait for the day that there is an­oth­er In­ter­Venn,” he said. “But we’ve been search­ing for years. There hasn’t.”

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