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New Company IDs Drugs Targeting Cancer Cell Networks

Cancer magnified

(PDPics, Pixabay)

7 Oct. 2020. A start-up company is using artificial intelligence to discover drugs that address the tumor stroma, a cellular network supporting cancerous tumors. Phenomic AI, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is also raising $6 million in seed financing for preclinical studies of the company’s first treatment candidates.

The tumor stroma is a complex network of cells including fibroblasts and extracellular matrices that provide the framework for cells, as well as blood vessels and immune cells. Under non-cancerous conditions, the stroma functions as a support system for organs, but when cancer develops, the stroma can become an enabler of tumors, including the metastatic spread of tumors in the body. A key part of the tumor stroma are carcinoma-associated fibroblast cells that send chemical signals promoting tumor progression and metastasis.

Tumor stroma, says Phenomic AI, is also emerging as a key obstacle to cancer treatment with immunotherapies that harness the immune system to fight tumors. Because of the complex cell signaling between tumor stroma and other cells, simple elimination of the stroma has returned inconsistent results when treating cancer with immunotherapies. As a result, Phenomic AI plans to use machine learning and other artificial intelligence tools to better understand the cellular cross-talk between tumor stroma and its environment, and discover treatments that remove barriers from tumor stroma to effective cancer immunotherapies.

Phenomic AI says its technology is based on machine learning to process RNA sequences and images to deconstruct the cellular interactions maintaining tumor stroma and supporting tumor progression. That understanding is expected to provide tools to screen individual drug candidates and combinations for addressing the barriers from tumor stroma to cancer immunotherapies.

“Building on our foundational machine-learning tools,” says Phenomic AI co-founder and CEO Sam Cooper in a company statement released through BusinessWire, “we can now process and extract information from the interactions between different cell types at the scale and speed necessary to power drug discovery. We’ve rapidly identified novel targets in the tumor stroma and have confirmed that they are heavily up-regulated in specific solid tumors.”

“Cancer and fibrotic diseases are driven by the dysregulation of local cellular environments, where multiple cell types are engaged in complicated, uncontrolled interactions, and teasing apart each cell type’s contribution has previously been a tremendous challenge,” notes Mike Briskin, Phenomic AI’s newly-named chief scientist. “By combining insights from Phenomic’s proprietary platform, along with additional technologies based on primary human cell data, we anticipate that we will be able to quickly build out a meaningful pipeline of new antibody drugs targeting the tumor stroma and other diseases driven by multi-cellular pathologies.”

Phenomic AI is raising $6 million in its seed funding round led by CTI Life Sciences Fund in Montreal, Quebec, joined by current investors Garage Capital, Hike Ventures, and Cantos Ventures, as well as new investors AV8 Ventures, Luminous Ventures, and Viva BioInnovator. The company is expected to use the proceeds from the round for preclinical studies on two validated cancer drug targets discovered with the company’s platform, and discover more drug targets for the company’s pipeline.

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