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Biotech startup uses artificial intelligence to eliminate guesswork in cancer drug selection, raising $70 million

From the moment the cancer is diagnosed, the clock starts to ticking. Early treatment can bring better results, but doctors must first choose drugs. It can take several months to evaluate the effect of the selected drug, and it takes time to stay away from another drug that may be better.Biotechnology company Hillis Designed to replace drug selection guessing with precision medicine technology, this technology simultaneously evaluates multiple treatments for patient tumors and then predicts the most effective treatment. The start-up company is advancing clinical trials and has raised $70 million for its research.

This A round of financing It was announced Thursday that it will be led by Mubadala Capital, the asset management arm of Mubadala Investments, a sovereign investor based in Abu Dhabi.

Testing a patient’s tumor to determine the appropriate treatment is not a new concept. Many newly approved targeted cancer therapies come with companion diagnostics. But each companion diagnosis only tests the applicability of its corresponding drug. Xilis (pronounced “ZY-lus”) in Durham, North Carolina, aims to test a range of potential cancer therapies.

Xilis co-founder and CEO Xiling Shen said that Xilis created a living model of patient cancer. The process starts with a biopsy of the tumor. Then, the company’s proprietary hardware encapsulates the cancer cells in tiny droplets, each of which retains the original tumor’s tissue structure, genetic changes, and immune system characteristics. These droplets, called MicroOrganoSpheres by Xilis, represent thousands of copies of the tumor.

The droplets are dispensed into the wells, where they are tested against a single drug or various drug combinations. Xilis’ artificial intelligence-driven algorithms evaluate the response to a set of cancer therapies and determine the most promising cancer treatments. Compared with the time it takes to evaluate how a drug works in a patient’s body, it can take several months. Shen said Xilis’ technology can provide answers for multiple drugs within two weeks.

“Our technology provides for the first time a scalable functional analysis that can test a patient’s tumor for a variety of different drugs, and then use artificial intelligence to more accurately predict the patient’s response to treatment,” Shen said.

Xilis is not the first company to develop organoids (tiny models of patients) as a drug testing method. About an hour’s drive west of Sirius, Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are studying the use of patient tissues to create tumors on a chip, And then used to test different anti-cancer drugs.start up Emulate is collaborating with the FDA on research The Boston-based company’s organ chip technology is being evaluated as an alternative to cell-based and animal testing for evaluating toxicology.

A startup like Xilis that is adopting an organoid approach to inform cancer drug choices is engineThe test requires the oncologist to send the biopsy or specimen to the Seattle company’s laboratory. SEngine isolates cancer cells and tests more than 200 anti-cancer drugs against organoids to determine the most appropriate therapy. The company said it can produce results within a week and then share them through reports sent to oncologists.

Shen said that the difference between Xilis’s method and other testing techniques is that it combines the patient’s immune cells to more completely represent a person’s response to the drug. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in May, Xilis submitted a Abstract Describe how its MicroOrganoSpheres can preserve the original tumor and the patient’s immune cells.

“Because we can do it so quickly and do things with the patient’s immune environment intact, so that you can test the patient’s tumor and the patient’s immune environment,” Shen said.

In addition to providing a new way to help oncologists choose anticancer drugs, Xilis also sees its technology as a way to guide pharmaceutical companies’ anticancer drug research. Shen said that this technology can help them determine whether to advance experimental therapies to clinical trials. When clinical trials begin, pharmaceutical companies can use the technology to select patients most likely to respond to treatment.

Xilis already has some studies showing that its technology can help pharmaceutical companies.At ASCO, Xilis submitted a Abstract Describes the use of MicroOrganoSpheres to evaluate the efficacy of tumor infiltrating leukocytes (a cancer immunotherapy) before clinical trials in non-small cell lung cancer. Shen said that Heineken has a number of pharmaceutical partners, none of which has been disclosed.

Xilis was launched in 2019 and was co-founded by Duke University professors Shen and David Hsu and the lead researcher Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands. Clevers pioneered organoids and organoid research. The start-up company received $3 million in seed funding from the beginning. In addition to Mubadala Capital, Xilis’s new financing also added new investors GV, European healthcare investment company LSP, Catalio Capital Management and Duke Angel Network. Earlier investors Felicis Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, Pear VC, KdT Ventures and Alix Ventures also participated.

Mubadala’s venture capitalist Ayman AlAbdallah said his fund was impressed with Xilis technology and its wide applicability for clinical and research uses.

“There is an urgent need for technologies like Xilis to help validate and accelerate clinical development, and allow clinicians to determine that the next generation of therapies will work in patients,” he said.

The new financing comes as Xilis advances its clinical trial program. The initial tests will be for colon cancer and breast cancer, and then for lung cancer research. Shen said that these cancers were chosen because of their prevalence. As for the company’s name, Shen said that this is a reference to Xilinx, a semiconductor company that has commercialized programmable technology for various products. Shen said that the Xilis name is intended to evoke the achievements of semiconductor companies, but it also applies to biology: flexible, programmable, automated, and scalable functional testing.

Photo by Hillis

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