CHICAGO – Swedish bioinformatics technology developer Qlucore is expanding into precision medicine and software-based diagnostics with a new platform called Qlucore Diagnostics.
The new product builds on the recently updated Qlucore Omics Explorer data analysis system to support analysis and visualization of fusion genes, as Qlucore initially will focus on diagnosis and treatment of leukemia. The company said that future versions of Qlucore Diagnostics will include classifiers to help pathologists and oncologists apply gene expression signatures to classify biological samples in disease subgroups.
Founder and President Carl-Johan Ivarsson called this the company's biggest move into a new market since Qlucore's inception in 2007.
Driving the decision was the rapidly falling cost of next-generation sequencing, making NGS viable for clinical purposes. "The type of data that was used in research is moving into the clinic. It's very natural that we follow with the software solution for that part of the market, too," Ivarsson said.
Ivarsson said that Qlucore Diagnostics essentially adjusts Qlucore Omics Explorer workflows and user interface to a clinical setting rather than a laboratory setting.
In December, the company released version 3.6 of Qlucore Omics Explorer. New features include the direct import of single-cell data and improved survival calculations using hazard ratios; gradient-boosted decision trees in the machine learning module; and a greater selection of standard templates, including templates for direct import of single-cell data from 10x Genomics. An optional module that has been available since 2017 supports NGS data analysis.
Qlucore said that the program integrates well with laboratory workflows and can be controlled and customized through a Python-based template by defining analysis steps. Qlucore Diagnostics works similarly.
In precision medicine, the Lund, Sweden-based company will initially focus its work on RNA-seq tests for cancer, starting with leukemia and soon moving into non-small cell lung cancer, building on existing partnerships with academic medical centers worldwide.
While other precision medicine software products have been looking to solve what Ivarsson called the "easy" problems involving one or two biomarkers at a time, Qlucore Diagnostics is looking at what the company sees as growing demand for support of more complex cases.
"That is what we see as the next phase for us, where we can interact not only directly to cancer treatment and diagnostics, but also a broader scope for solutions where you have to have a dedicated test for specific drugs and treatments."
The first generation of Qlucore Diagnostics features a user interface tailored for clinical use, meaning that it has the same kinds of visualization as Omics Explorer but is more report-oriented, according to Ivarsson.
It is meant to help clinicians filter fusion genes and return "clinically relevant results," Ivarsson said.
Ivarsson believes that cancer diagnostics workflows are becoming increasingly generic, largely driven by NGS. "You have the [sequencing] files as output, and then you can calculate and use machine learning, for instance, and build classifiers on the output data, then you have diagnostic tests," he said. Sequencing labs are realizing that it is advantageous to have a single set of instruments to run multiple tests rather than having different setups for flow cytometry and PCR," according to Ivarsson. "But of course there will be competition in this area and the instrument manufacturers might disagree with me," he added.
Qlucore software combines both visualization and filtering, and also supports variant calling. While plenty of competitors offer similar capabilities, Ivarsson said that his company stands out because the software architecture is optimized for rapid calculations and interactivity.
"Instead of presenting plots at the end of a workflow, we always present a plot as the first thing you see when you start to work with data, so you get the feeling for your data," Ivarsson said. "When you apply different types of statistics and methods of filtering, your plots are updated continuously … so we lower the barriers for non-experts in approaching their data."
In diagnostics, Qlucore will be able to provide a lab report for a specific patient in the context of cohorts of other patients who may or may not fit into cancer subtypes, according to Ivarsson.
"You get the visual feedback on how does that fit? Does it really fall into exactly that group or is it something a little bit in the middle?"
In the future, Qlucore may develop a simplified version of the software for patients to see where they fall in comparison to other patients, Ivarsson added. "There is a strong demand for being patient-centric rather than treatment- or lab-centric," he noted.
Qlucore Diagnostics has not been approved for clinical use in any market, so it will take some time before the software is actually available in hospitals.
In other company news, two weeks ago, Qlucore named Johan Thiel and Boel Sundvall to its board of directors, though neither has experience in bioinformatics. Thiel is a longtime entrepreneur who served for six years as CEO of MIPS, a Swedish company known for making a "brain protection system" for bicycling and snowboarding helmets that reduces rotational forces that often lead to concussions. Sundvall comes from a background in corporate finance, investor relations, and communications, including with MIPS.
Ivarsson said that the firm simply wanted good businesspeople on the board. "We know that the diagnostics market is much bigger than the research market," he said. "To bring in competencies or people [who have not had] similar journeys before was an important factor for us."
Qlucore last month also finalized a rights issue worth €400,000. The money came mostly from angel investors in Sweden, but Ivarsson declined to identify them.
That money will only partially fund the expansion into diagnostics and precision medicine, Ivarsson said. Cash flow from the established research side of the business will also aid in the expansion, and Ivarsson hinted that the company is exploring a full funding round in the near future.