With fresh investor cash in hand, Volastra partners with Microsoft to develop metastatic cancer biomarker platform
Despite a suite of innovations in oncologic therapy, metastatic cancer remains one of the leading killers of US patients, and the underlying drivers of its growth are still little known. A West Harlem biotech is looking at one potential path to solving metastasis, and now it’s working with a high-profile partner to speed its efforts.
Volastra has closed an expanded $44 million Series A and iced a deal with Microsoft to develop new digital tools to identify biomarkers for cancer metastasis based on the company’s work studying chromosomal instability, the biotech said in a pair of releases Tuesday.
Founded on science from co-founders Lewis Cantley, Olivier Elemento and Samuel Bakhoum, Volastra is looking to discover and develop novel drugs targeting chromosomal instability, a key driver in the metastatic cancer. The biotech uses artificial intelligence to identify biomarkers for chromosomal instability “at scale,” CEO Charles Hugh-Jones told Endpoints News, and is working to develop novel molecules across three broad potential modalities: immune activation, synthetic lethality and CIN-pathway modulation.
The key there is “at scale,” and that’s the idea that sparked the partnership with Microsoft. The tech giant will pit its “computer vision” platform, which crunches data sets for visual features, against Volastra’s growing chromosomal instability data sets and hopefully begin churning out biomarkers sooner than you might think.
“They’re really interested in how they can apply their machine vision algorithms and we’re bringing to the table the chromosomal instability expertise,” Hugh-Jones said. “Combining those two, we will have by the third quarter of this year a machine vision platform where we bulk identify chromosomal instability.”
With that high-profile deal in place, Volastra will also take a fresh round of investor cash to scale its own internal discovery platform and potentially be ready to start unveiling lead compounds in the near future. The biotech currently has two leads under wraps, Hugh-Jones said, and is looking to get into first human studies by early 2023.
Chromosomal instability is a ripe field for study given its role in driving metastatic cancer, which is diagnosed in about 350,000 US patients each year. Only about a third of those respond to targeted or immunotherapies, Volastra said, leaving the door open for a wide range of alternative modalities.
The $44 million round expands Volastra’s seed funding and was headlined by new investors Vida Ventures and Catalio Capital Management, which joined a syndicate that includes Polaris Partners, Droia Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners and Quark Venture.
Hugh-Jones joined the team in September, which bloomed primarily from the work of Cornell’s Cantley, who discovered the PI3K pathway in oncology.