MediSapiens, a bioinformatics company based in Finland, plans to use a recent round of financing to reconfigure its research-based software for use in molecular diagnostics and personalized medicine.
Earlier this month, the company received a $1 million seed round investment from Veraventure, a Finnish venture capital investment company, and other investors.
Timo Ahopelto, vice president of strategy for MediSapiens, told BioInform that the company plans to target the software for oncologists who would use it to develop specialized treatments for individual patients.
Specifically, the software will provide information about how over-expression of genes, differences in gene expression, and unique mutations contribute to each individual patient’s cancer.
Ahopelto said that the software was first developed in 2004 by the Finnish Institute for Molecular Medicine — a joint research institute of the University of Helsinki; the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa; the National Institute for Health and Welfare; and the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland.
The same group that developed the software maintains a gene expression database called GeneSapiens, a free resource that includes data on 43 normal tissues, 68 cancer types, and 64 other diseases and currently contains more than 130 million data points.
In 2008, VTT began using the software and database to conduct applied research studies with pharmaceutical companies and university hospitals. MediSapiens spun out of that research effort in 2009.
For this next phase of its development, the company will test the software in private cancer clinics and will place it in the hands of individual oncologists.
Ahopelto said that reconfiguration plans are far along and that the software is currently being used in a pilot project with a private oncology clinic, which he did not name, and should be ready to launch in a few weeks.
For the moment, MediSapiens plans to market the software to research hospitals in Europe with which it has already established relationships.
“Everybody is today talking about treatment personalization and molecular profiling but nobody is really making it practical,” said Ahopelto. “We have made it really practical and we are providing a 360-degree tumor profile for the oncologist.”
In practice, oncologists would first assess a patient's tumor using microarrays or other molecular-profiling technologies and would then enter the data into the company’s database, which contains molecular profiles and clinical data for 20,000 cancer patients. The software compares the new patient’s information with the existing information stored in the database looking for genetic alterations in patients with similar types of cancer.
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“When we do the comparison, we can see that these cancer patients have abnormal genes that are working differently in that patient’s cancer,” Ahopelto said. “One gene can mean that the breast cancer is very invasive and the other gene can mean that it’s very aggressive [and will metastasize]. Another one can mean that it’s not so aggressive and another one can mean that it’s very responsive to radiotherapy.”
He continued. “As an oncologist, if you can see the molecular profile of that cancer, you can start selecting the chemotherapies or hormonal therapies or other treatment strategies that you know address [the] type of cancer or you can use some kind of complementary therapies.”
In addition to its molecular diagnostics capabilities, MediSapiens plans to make the software user-friendly for customers.
Investing for the Future
Ari-Pekka Laitsaari, Veraventure’s manager, told BioInform that the company chose to invest in MediSapiens based in part on current trends in the pharmaceutical industry, which indicate that personalized medicine is becoming a reality. He said that the MediSapiens software can be “a fantastic platform for personalized medicine.”
“If you look at the trends in the pharmaceutical industry, they [are trying] to cut costs left, right, and center in their processes, for example, they want to outsource as much of the pre-clinical [contract research organization] stuff to specified companies and they would like to certainly make a go/no-go decision as early as possible,” he said. “From that, if we can transform [MediSapiens'] software [to work for] diagnostics and personalized medicine, then we get a whole new spectrum.”
He added that the clinic involved in the testing plans to use actual patient data to test the software’s capabilities.
According to Laitsaari, the software should be received well in the market because MediSapiens is one of only a few software companies in the personalized medicine market.
Of course, there are many other firms looking to enter the personalized medicine space, particularly in the area of oncology. For example, he cited Foundation Medicine, which recently raised a portion of a planned $25 million in Series A venture funding to develop a genomic testing platform for individualized cancer treatment.
And other bioinformatics firms are beginning to move into the molecular diagnostic arena. This week, CLC Bio announced that it had received a portion of a $2 million grant from the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation to develop its software for use in sequencing-based molecular diagnostics (see related story, this issue).
But Laitsaari says the competition may not be a bad thing. “When we see companies like Foundation Medicine targeting exactly the same space where we are, that verifies our technology,” he said.