MedTrust Online, a spinoff of the Translational Genomics Research Institute, said this week that it has raised $2.5 million in a Series A financing round to help it launch a web portal for oncologists that will include genetic-based medical data generated from TGen’s own labs, and other tools to help diagnose and treat cancers, according to a company executive.
The company, which is currently beta-testing its web portal with one of Texas’ largest private oncology clinics, is also in the process of raising approximately $5 million in additional cash with the goal of making the portal available to all physicians sometime in December, the executive said.
“When you consider cancer, we do a significantly better job of care at the academic level than we do at the community level,” Russell Clark, executive vice president of business development for MedTrust, told BTW this week. “I think the compelling part of the MedTrust business model is to provide a knowledge-transfer tool that will create a conduit between industry, academia, and the practicing community of oncologists.”
MedTrust is the third company – and first since 2005 – to spin out of non-profit TGen through the institute’s commercial arm, TGen Accelerators. TGen is also providing MedTrust with use of facilities and services, and has licensed pertinent intellectual property to the company in exchange for an undisclosed equity position.
MedTrust is the brainchild of Daniel Von Hoff, physician-in-chief and director of the Clinical Translational Research Division at TGen; and Richard Love, a former TGen senior executive.
Its main service will be a web portal that will allow practicing oncologists to access data from a variety of sources – including the types of genetic-based medical data generated from TGen’s own labs – to help guide diagnoses and treatments.
Primary features include a proprietary search engine that will, for instance, enable oncologists to input a specific disease and get detailed information on potential drugs for treating it. Or, a physician could input a disease and a drug and find peer-reviewed journal articles relating to that combination.
Clark said that these tools would be particularly useful to oncologists because, he estimated, “somewhere in the range of 20 to 30 percent of cases don’t fit cleanly within treatment guidelines such as those developed” by authorities such as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
The web tool will also feature a forum called the Electronic Curbside Consult that will allow registered oncologists to discuss or ask questions about difficult cases. The forum also links to an expert panel that includes the likes of TGen’s Von Hoff and can provide timely, personalized responses to physicians’ inquiries, Clark said.
MedTrust Online will launch as an oncology-oriented site and remain that way for three years, Clark said. However, it eventually plans to address other disease areas such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and central nervous system disorders.
Raising Arizona Funds
The company officially began operations in April and closed a Series A financing round of approximately $2.5 million earlier this year, Clark said. Initial investors included the National Foundation for Cancer Research; South Texas Oncology and Hematology, which is also currently beta testing and helping develop the site; and an undisclosed number of other individuals and institutions.
Clark said it is relatively unusual for a private disease foundation such as NFCR to invest in an early-stage company, but that the foundation saw that MedTrust “has great potential for changing the cancer care paradigm. They’re in the business of improving cancer outcomes, and after careful consideration the foundation found that the story was compelling and that [the web portal] has the potential to significantly impact the way cancer patients are treated.”
“The compelling part of the MedTrust business model is to provide a knowledge-transfer tool that will create a conduit between industry, academia, and the practicing community of oncologists.”
The Translational Accelerator, or TRAC (not to be confused with TGen Accelerators), a $20 million private bioscience venture group unveiled in February and backed by various Phoenix-area bioscience and investment professionals, is not investing in MedTrust, but is attempting to help the company find financing.
Eric Tooker, president and CEO of Scottsdale-based consulting firm Medical Consultant Services, and one of four TRAC managing partners, told BTW that MedTrust falls outside of TRAC’s focus area, “but if we had a broader charter we would invest.”
Love, who is a member of MedTrust’s board of managers, is also a managing partner at TRAC. In a statement, Love said he “personally believes that MedTrust can have a bigger impact on patient care than anything I’ve seen come along over the past decade.”
MedTrust is currently trying to secure an additional $5 million in Series B financing that it said will help it launch the web site and lay the groundwork for future disease-specific areas. Clark said the company, which currently employs 12 people, has so far received signed commitment letters from undisclosed backers for about $1 million of that investment target.
Another cash infusion may also help MedTrust support a new deal that it is currently negotiating with an undisclosed academic cancer center. “That’s a slightly different model we’ve developed there: a translational research community to support the translational research goals of this institution,” Clark said. “We are really excited about that as a model that will directly connect community physicians to this academic center.”
MedTrust has also received non-financial support from TGen Accelerators, a firm set up in 2003 – one year after TGen opened up shop – to help create companies based on technologies developed at the institute.
Specifically, TGen Accelerators has supplied MedTrust with consulting services, allowed it to work with various scientists at the institute, and helped the company identify and secure investors.
In addition, on Aug. 5 MedTrust licensed from TGen certain undisclosed IP that covers the web portal business model and a search engine.
In exchange, TGen has obtained an undisclosed equity stake in MedTrust.
“TGen is a free-standing, non-profit organization,” MaryAnn Guerra, chief business officer at TGen and president of TGen Accelerators, told BTW this week. “We have no alumni and we are not affiliated with patients. We raise all of our money through grants, philanthropy, and our investments in these new companies.”
As such, Guerra likened TGen Accelerators to a business arm of the institute with the goal of “creating a financial future for TGen. We hope to be able to hold some decent equity so that when these companies that we help set up are hopefully successful and flourish; TGen will eventually get some downstream financial gain and future financial sustainability.”
As an informatics firm, MedTrust is a bit of a departure from TGen’s two previous spinouts: Caris Molecular Profiling Institute, spun off in 2004 as the Molecular Profiling Institute and acquired by Caris Dx in January; and the non-profit TGen Drug Development Services, launched in 2005 and currently operating independently out of its Scottsdale headquarters.
TGen also spun out a company called NanoBiomics in 2005, but that company was merged in the same year with MPI.
All of those former spinouts focused on either diagnostic development or contract research, according to Guerra, while MedTrust represents a literal extension of the institute’s mission to translate basic scientific research into clinical benefits.
“If you look at all the research and clinical data that is being generated on a daily basis – how does a local community doctor figure out what that information means to their patients?” Guerra said.
“Because we’re into translational research and want to make sure our discoveries are helping the patients, it’s important to make sure that local physicians can access this information in a way that makes sense – and that’s what MedTrust does,” she added. “The local community physician doesn’t have the same resources, so this … gathers all this information in a way that would probably be very time-intensive for physicians, if they even knew where to gather it.”