NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Hamburg, Germany-based oncology firm Indivumed will use a recent cash influx to expand the breadth of tumor data and analysis services that it provides to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, with an eye toward eventually offering more clinically oriented resources to enable physicians to treat patients more effectively and select relevant clinical trials.
Last week, Indivumed announced that it received a €40 million ($47.8 million) loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB), and additional funding from several unnamed private investors. Indivumed said that it plans to use the funds to develop and validate new biomarker assays as well as to further develop its global cancer database, which provides access to data from cancer patients and bioinformatics tools to make sense of it.
The database provides access to data from tumor samples collected from the company's network of partner hospitals. Part of the company's commercial proposition are the standardized conditions and protocols that it uses to collect and preserve biopsy samples to ensure their integrity and the integrity of any data generated from the tumors, according to Hartmut Juhl, CEO of Indivumed and its subsidiary IndivuTest, which offers oncology testing services for patients with recalcitrant tumors.
The sample collection system allows the company to obtain biospecimens that are comparable because they have been collected under identical conditions. "This gives [us] a unique ability to understand cancer and also to develop new drugs and define new targets," Juhl said. Furthermore, it is possible to compare the data in the context of clinical trials, for example, without worrying about variation caused by differences in the timing of sample collection or how the sample was handled once it was removed from the patient. "We have a very active lab in Hamburg where we can do all the analytics which are needed to understand these tissues," he said. Over time, "we have built up a very strong service … around our tissue collection and our laboratory capabilities."
Access to the data in Induvumed's repository allows researchers to study gene expression analysis in tumors as well as the expression of cancer-relevant proteins and phosphoproteins. The company also collects some clinical data from partner hospitals and combines these with the molecular information gleaned from the corresponding tumor samples.
The company will use some of its recent funding to further develop a bioinformatics platform to make sense of the molecular data and clinical information it collects from partner hospitals, Juhl said. "The bioinformatics platform will serve as an interface, a portal if you will, to access, interpret and visualize multi-omics data derived from the global cancer database," he said. "Data and results derived from analysis such as gene profiling, lipodomics, proteomics, metabolomics or other select types of analytics platforms will enable investigators to perform a range of dynamic analysis."
This will include performing statistical analysis for market research purposes or cancer survival, as well as analyzing specific cohorts of data using algorithms to define the dependencies of variables in large datasets, Juhl said. In addition, the company will develop what it describes as artificial intelligence tools for deep learning from clinical and omic data. "While Indivumed will not market this portal solution as a standalone commercial product, it will be made available to end users who will secure a license for the use of Indivumed's global cancer database," Juhl said.
Indivumed is also developing new analytical tests for understanding tumor tissue quality, Juhl said. These particular tests are more of an extension of its existing service offerings, but the company hopes that by analyzing data in its cancer database, it will be able to identify potential targets for drug development and new diagnostics that it could bring to the market.
Indivumed is also looking to expand the network of hospitals that it collects samples from. Furthermore, a portion of its recent funding will go towards building a pilot cohort of 5,000 patients gleaned from its biorepository specifically for research purposes.
Specifically, Indivumed will perform full sequencing on tumors from the selected patients in addition to sequencing RNA and analyzing protein andimmunophenotypic data from histological slides including multiplex staining and image analysis. The samples will also be annotated with clinical information collected from contributing hospitals.
"We believe we are developing a globally unique research capacity based on Indivumed’s proprietary capacity to control for tissue quality and standardization of clinical data," Juhl said. This pilot cohort will allow Indivumed "illustrate the ultimate utility of the global cancer database solution for cancer researchers, whether they be based in academia or commercial entities."
Indivumed hopes the additions to its portfolio will help it expand its customer base which currently includes a number of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as well as some academic institutions. The new offerings should be available to customers this year, Juhl said. Diagnostic assays and biomarker targets will take a little longer to develop but should be available within the next two or three years.
While the target market for now is pharma and biotech, Indivumed hopes to eventually provide resources that will allow clinicians to search its database for similar profiles to their patients and potentially locate treatments that showed efficacy in similar cases, for example. Such resources could also help clinicians match patients to clinical trials that will be most effective for them. "We have the patient in mind in the long run but the first stage is clearly helping to get more drugs on the market," Juhl said.
Indivumed has inked several partnerships in recent months. For example, in September it signed a deal with Helomics that allows the companies to jointly offer products and services for cancer specimen research and clinical data analysis to their customers. Also last year, MedStar Health began contributing to Indivumed's biospecimen database as part of an agreement signed by the two companies. In addition, Intermed invested in Indivumed's efforts to expand its cancer database and also agreed to help distribute diagnostic tests that Indivumed offers through its IndivuTest subsidiary. Indivumed is also working with the Indian Institute of Technology Madras to develop its biobank and database for precision medicine research.
Juhl said that the company is in active discussions with several potential partner sites throughout the US, Europe, and Asia but declined to disclose their identities as agreements are not yet in place. However, he did say that the company is pursuing partnerships with an eye towards increasing the heterogeneity of the content in its database. Ultimately, the goal is to allow "for the broadest census of cancer types within the global cancer database."