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15 February, 2019 - 14:14 By Tony Quested

Cancer AI business set for significant funding round

Cambridge Cancer Genomics, which is transforming the way cancer patients are treated using artificial intelligence, is soon to embark on a fresh round of fundraising to fuel its R & D activities in Europe’s leading technology cluster.

“Cancer centres around the world are trusting us with their genomic and clinical outcomes data,” says CEO John Cassidy “and now we want to raise fresh capital to unlock the value in these datasets for the good of patients everywhere.”

CCG is reluctant to forecast exact figures but, assessing the traction already secured by the startup and its transatlantic potential, it could raise anything between $20m and $50m. It has already raised around $4.5m seed capital, Business Weekly understands.

CCG is backed by Y Combinator, the California seed accelerator, incorporated in the UK and anchored in Cambridge. It also has a key alliance with the globally respected Comprehensive Blood & Cancer Centre in Bakersfield, California among other partnerships on both sides of the Pond.

The health technology company is building tools to enable oncologists to make the best therapeutic decisions for their patients.

Cassidy says that cancer therapy is currently a one-size-fits-all process for the majority of patients and only the very rich have access to truly personalised, or precision, oncology. 

Despite all the recent breakthroughs in cancer treatment, the reality is that first line therapy still fails for two out of three cancer patients and it can take up to six months to realise when a drug isn’t working. 

CCG is using blood draws to guide smarter cancer therapy and shorten the time required to know whether treatment is working or not. This gives a clinician more time to alter treatment and reduce unnecessary side effects experienced by the patient.

Through simple blood draws, CCG can also identify relapse an average of seven months earlier than standard practice. Over time, this continuous monitoring of treatment effectiveness will power better predictions of the best therapeutic strategy.

Cassidy said: “Our mission is to use advances in machine learning, AI and big data analysis to power a new type of cancer treatment regimen. Ultimately, we will ensure that each patient has the right treatment to beat their cancer.”

Cassidy has a background in cancer research in both academia (Cancer Research UK, University of Glasgow, and University of Cambridge) and Pharma with MedImmune. His PhD at Cambridge focused on understanding how tumours become resistant to therapy. He has experience with multiple startups and has recently been named in the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 list. 

The business itself was founded in the Queens’ College bar in Cambridge but has built to 25 headcount ahead of a new round of hiring which coincides with the Series A raise. 

While the US holds massive potential for the company, Cassidy says Europe is also a promising springboard for growth. “We see CCG and its technology very much as a worldwide play.”

A passionate evangelist of personalised medicine, Cassidy believes CCG holds the tools to herald in a new dawn of treatment for individual cancer patients. Researchers have gone from a standing start of sequencing one genome to working with hundreds of thousands of genomes and now five million genomes – a capability he believes holds immense potential to deliver effective personalised treatments.

He said: “At CCG, we believe that expanding clinical and genomic data has the potential to enable oncologists to make smarter decisions about which drug to use in which circumstance.

“To power our analytics, we carry out research at the cutting edge of machine learning and cancer genomics to power our precision oncology software.”

Cassidy believes that while there is a lot of hype in Silicon Valley about new technological approaches to cancer treatment, hype is absent in the approach of the best UK practitioners in the field. 

He acknowledges the groundwork laid by Cambridge-based Solexa in automating genome sequencing which triggered the company’s acquisition by Illumina and in turn sparked a massive new business for the American parent.

He says: “Cambridge has a global reputation for game-changing science & technology and while we intend to work globally and raise growth capital internationally, we very much want to build a world-class company from a Cambridge base. 

“It is not easy to hire top people in such a competitive arena but we feel our proposition is genuinely exciting and creates a stimulating environment for staff.”

CCG’s SomaticNET solution provides a neural network evaluation of tumour variants. Cassidy says: “Differences in our DNA underlie many aspects of human health; from rare genetic diseases to cancer. In this project, CCG builds a new class of software for detecting DNA variants. 

“Based on the same principles behind facial recognition, our technique can identify cancer variants with unparalleled accuracy. We hope that releasing this software for non-commercial use will lead to more successful targeted therapy and personalised cancer medicine.

“CCG has developed a new class of variant detection algorithm, based on computer vision. In benchmark tests with ground truth datasets, our software already outperforms those developed by Google and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Our tool is available for free, for non-commercial use.”

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