Cancer is not only a leading cause of death today, but it also takes a toll on the life of the patient. It is a painful, difficult and uncertain journey overall.
While these patients have the utmost right to be given personalized therapy suitable to their physical and emotional needs, the traditional methods of diagnosis keep them from having it.
Oncobit eliminates this gap of limited options to diagnose and monitor cancer patients. Through highly sensitive diagnostic and monitoring tools, the company delivers the most appropriate treatment selections to the physicians, thus enabling personalized treatment for cancer.
In an interview with Insights Care, Claudia Scheckel, the CEO, shares in depth about Oncobit’s use of non-invasive technologies to enable personalized disease monitoring.
Following are the excerpts from the interview:
Please brief us about the company and its inception.
Personalized cancer therapies are being developed at an increasingly rapid rate. To offer personalized therapies, diagnostics must keep pace to provide the necessary information. Yet current solutions are not sensitive and specific enough, and diagnostic data analysis and interpretation are becoming increasingly complex. These unmet needs were quite apparent to two of my co-founders, who study cancer and are Professors at the University and University Hospital of Zurich. To address them they developed a more specific and more sensitive diagnostic test for melanoma. And that’s how we founded Oncobit.
Kindly tell us about yourself and your professional journey so far.
I have been living my passion for science and analytical thinking for almost 20 years. After obtaining my Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Basel (Switzerland), I worked for almost a decade in leading biomedical research institutions in New York (The Rockefeller University) and Zurich, Switzerland (University Hospital Zurich).
During that time, I had several entrepreneurial touchpoints, got a degree in management, and ultimately joined Oncobit as Co-founder and CEO in the spring of 2020 to actively transform my knowledge into medical advances for the benefit of patients.
What are the key products and services offered by the company and how is it impacting the demographic concerned?
We have built a portfolio of three tests that accompany cancer patients throughout their history. For diagnostics, we have developed two cancer-specific sequencing assays that provide a comprehensive profile of the patient’s tumor, using either tissue (Oncobit TM Dx) or blood (Oncobit TM LB) as input. This allows us to provide more tailored therapy decision support compared to the common “one-size-fits-all” solution.
Additionally, we have developed a radically simplified personalized monitoring solution (Oncobit TM PM), detecting and quantifying cancer-specific markers in the patient’s blood. The test is minimally invasive and can be applied repeatedly and longitudinally to monitor therapy response and cancer recurrence.
All our products consist of an assay and software, and the unique combination of technical know-how, proprietary software and close clinical collaborations allow us to develop more comprehensive and sensitive cancer diagnostic and monitoring solutions. To date, we have focused on melanoma, but we have a scalable approach and are currently expanding our portfolio to other cancer types.
What are the core values of the company? How are you driving the company to achieve its mission and vision statement?
At Oncobit, our vision is to enable personalized cancer care, by providing highly sensitive and comprehensive solutions to find the best cancer treatment for each patient. We use state-of-the-art technologies to provide physicians with cancer-specific, innovative, and high-quality diagnostic and monitoring tests and therapy-decision support.
Our mission is to work closely together with clinicians to develop tests that are useful for the clinic, and therefore ultimately the patient. Oncobit is a science-driven company founded out of an urgent need and can therefore accurately understand and respond to the needs of our customers with high precision. Honesty and transparency are important to us and win-win is not a slogan but a prerequisite for any form of cooperation with us. Tolerance of other opinions, religions, sexual orientations, and life models and respectful communication is essential for us.
In your opinion, how is AI increasing the survival rates among cancer patients? How is your company using this technology in unique ways to deliver the best results?
AI-assisted therapy selection is a key driver for improving patient outcomes. Based on patients’ clinical, genomic and outcome information, AI can learn patterns that are associated with positive therapy results.
At Oncobit, we are involved in two aspects of this process: on one hand, we are providing the products for deriving high-quality genomic (Oncobit TM Dx and LB) and outcome (Oncobit TM PM) data, which are key for training high-performance AI models. On the other hand, we are using these models to suggest the best possible cancer therapy for patients.
In addition, we use AI in the development of all our core products, such as for the design of optimal gene panels or the analysis of complex genomic data.
What are the key challenges in the industry and how are you infusing your leadership skills to turn them into opportunities to chart the company’s growth upwards?
Personalized therapies are constantly evolving and are becoming the standard of care for cancer treatment. Yet, ensuring that the right therapy regime was selected, requires sensitive, rapid and, above all, cancer-specific diagnostic and monitoring solutions. In addition, the analysis and interpretation of the data of these tests are becoming increasingly complex.
As a start-up company, we have the flexibility, knowledge and capacity to develop practical and market-oriented solutions that precisely meet these unmet needs. Our minimal invasive blood-based Oncobit TM PM test is a good example.
We have applied our technical expertise to develop a quantitative cancer-specific assay, applying an ultrasensitive method, digital PCR. Yet, when applying such ultrasensitive methodologies, standardized data analysis is critical to eliminate biases, provide more robust results and achieve optimal sensitivity and specificity. Our test, therefore, includes a proprietary software solution that takes healthy data into account when classifying patient samples, while enabling automatic data analysis, interpretation and reporting at the same time.
As an experienced leader, what advice would you like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who wish to venture into the competitive industry that you are serving?
I strongly believe that close collaboration with physicians is critical in developing products that will be used in the clinic. At the same time, the healthcare market is highly complex, and it is not sufficient to only fulfill the needs of physicians and patients. Regulatory agencies, hospitals and health insurances are critical stakeholders, and on top of that healthcare systems between countries are rarely alike. This complexity can be quite daunting, especially for a small startup.
Yet with the right team, good advisors and the right strategy everything is manageable, and finding and setting up a good support system is therefore essential. One then quickly learns how to break down complex problems into manageable parts, focus on what is important and how to quickly gather just enough information to make a decision.
Resilience, pragmatism, decisiveness, high intrinsic motivation, and above all, passion for what you do are key qualities that help you navigate even complex industries.
What are the future goals of the company? How does it envision scaling up its operations and reach in 2023 and beyond?
We are currently expanding our personalized monitoring test to additional melanoma markers and will expand to other cancer types later this year. With our proprietary software solutions being an integral part of all our products, our approach is easily scalable. In the long run, we want to become a worldwide leader in cancer diagnosis and monitoring.
Give us a few testimonials from your clients or customers, and awards or recognition that accurately highlight your company’s position in the market.
We have won several start-up competitions and awards, which was an important recognition of our company, our products and our team. The fact that we get to work closely with leading dermato-oncologists is a testimonial that we have the right approach. Although there is still much for us to do, I am very proud of what we have already achieved, including ISO 13485 certification of our quality management, and regulatory approval for our first product.
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