Dr. Richard Stratford and Dr. Trevor Clancy, founders of OncoImmunity are happy to combine forces with NEC Corporation to strengthen their machine learning software in the fight against cancer.

Norwegian AI-based cancer research gets a boost

The Japanese tech giant NEC Corporation has acquired OncoImmunity AS, a Norwegian bioinformatics company that develops machine learning software to fight cancer.

This week, Oslo Cancer Cluster member OncoImmunity AS was bought by the Japanese IT and network company NEC Corporation. The company is now a subsidiary of NEC and operates under the name of NEC OncoImmunity AS. NEC has recently launched an artificial intelligence driven drug discovery business and stated in a press release that NEC OncoImmunity AS will be integral in developing NEC’s immunotherapy pipeline.

 

AI meets precision medicine

One of the great challenges when treating cancer today is to identify the right treatment for the right patient. Each cancer tumour is unique, and every patient has their own biological markers. So, how can doctors predict which therapy will work on which patient?

NEC OncoImmunity AS develops software to identify neoantigen targets for truly personalized cancer vaccines, cell therapies and optimal patient selection for cancer immunotherapy clinical trials. Neoantigen targets are parts of a protein that are unique to a patient’s specific tumor, and can be presented by the tumor to trigger the patient’s immune system to attack and potentially eradicate the tumor.

“The exciting field of personalized medicine is moving fast and becoming increasingly competitive. The synergy with NEC Corporation will allow us to make our technology even more accurate and competitive, as we can leverage NEC’s expertise in AI and software development and enable OI to deploy our technology on scale in the clinic due to their expertise in networks and cyber security,” said Dr. Trevor Clancy, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder.

“This acquisition gives us the opportunity to be a world leading player in this field and serve our Norwegian and international clients with improved and secure prediction technology in the medium to long term,” said Dr. Richard Stratford, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder.

 

The rise to success

OncoImmunity was founded in 2014 and has been a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster since the early days of the start up. The co-founders Dr. Trevor Clancy and Dr. Richard Stratford said the cluster has been instrumental to their success and thanks the team for their advice and support from the very beginning of their journey:

“It is crucial with a technology like ours that we interact with commercial companies active in drug development, research, clinical projects, investors and other partners. Oslo Cancer Cluster is the perfect ecosystem in that regard as it provides the company with the networking and partnering opportunities that in effect support our science, technological and commercial developments.”

Mr. Anders Tuv, Investment Director of Radforsk, has been responsible for managing the sales process in relation to the Japanese group NEC Corporation on behalf of the shareholders. The shareholders are happy with the transaction and the value creation that was realised through it. Mr. Tuv commented:

“It is a huge recognition that such a global player as NEC sees the value of the product and expertise that have been developed in OncoImmunity AS and buys the company to strengthen their own investments in and development of AI-driven cancer treatment. It is also a recognition of what Norway is achieving in the field of cancer research, and it shows that Radforsk has what it takes to develop early-phase companies into significant global positions within the digital/AI-driven part of the industry. We believe that NEC will be a good owner going forward, and we wish the enterprise the very best in its future development.”

 

Medicine is becoming digital

NEC OncoImmunity AS is now positioned to become a front runner in the design of personalized immunotherapy driven by artificial intelligence. Dr. Trevor Clancy said that NEC and OncoImmunity share the common vision that medicine is becoming increasingly digital and that AI will play a key role in shaping future drug development:

“Both organizations believe strongly that personalized cancer immunotherapy will bring curative power to cancer patients, and this commitment from NEC is highlighted by the recent launch of their drug discovery business. The acquisition now means that both companies can execute on their vision and be a powerful force internationally to deliver true personalized medicine driven by AI.”

 

For more information, please visit the official websites of NEC Corporations and NEC OncoImmunity AS 

 

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Dr. Richard Stratford and Trevor Clancy in OncoImmunity are happy about getting prestigious financing through EUs SME Instrument in December 2018. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

Machine-learning for immunotherapy

Photo of Richard Stratford and Trevor Clancy in OncoImmunity.

A prestigious EU-grant will advance OncoImmunity’s machine-learning approach to develop personalized cancer immunotherapy.

The bioinformatics company OncoImmunity AS is empowering cancer immunotherapy with artificial intelligence. They use innovative software solutions to guide the discovery of neoantigen-based personalized immunotherapies and biomarkers. What does this really mean?

It means that the software they have developed helps to identify neoantigens, also known as immunogenic mutations, in a patient’s cancer cells. Cancer cells deceive the immune system by looking like healthy cells. But they still express cancer-specific markers, known as neoantigens. (See facts box for explanation.)

Enables personalized medicine
The interesting part about neoanitgens, is that every patient’s tumor expresses a unique combination. This enables truly personalized medicine to be applied, if the correct neoantigens are selected from the thousands of possible candidates in the genome of a tumor. Researchers using this technology can now solve this “needle in the haystack” challenge by analyzing a tumor genome to figure out the right cocktail of neoantigens, for each individual patient, and design a specific vaccine or cell therapy uniquely designed just for them.

Such personalzed immunotherapy can for instance boost the immune system’s response by making the immune system better able to recognize and target the patient’s unique cancer cells.

Faster bespoke treatment
OncoImmunity’s flagship software, the ImmuneProfiler™,is a unique machine learning solution that makes it easier to instantaneously see and accurately select which neoantigens will be responsive in each patient.

It thereby helps biotech companies design neoantigen-based personalized cancer vaccines and cell therapies and enables bespoke treatments to be developed faster. Additionally, the technology allows clinical researchers to select which patients will likely respond to the wide range of cancer immunotherapies currently under development in the field.

In that sense, the OncoImmunity-approach to cancer treatment is exactly in line with Oslo Cancer Cluster’s main goal: to speed up the development of new cancer treatments for the benefit of cancer patients.

Prestigious EU-grant
Horizon 2020’s SME Instrument is a grant that is tailored for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). It targets innovative businesses with international ambitions — such as OncoImmunity.

The SME Instrument has two application phases. Phase one awards the winning company 50 000 Euros based on an innovative project idea. Phase two is the actual implementation of the main project. In this phase, the applicant may receive between 1 and 2,5 million Euros.

Oncoimmunity won the phase one project last year. Then, the founders of the bioinformatics company were happy about the opportunity to refine and optimize their machine-learning framework. Their goal has always been to facilitate personalized cancer vaccine design.

Fantastic funding
Now, they have won a considerably larger grant of 2,2 Million Euros that they are going to use to fund a project titled Machine-learning Engine for the Design of personalized Vaccines in Cancer (MEDIVAC).

The SME Instrument grant provides OncoImmunity the opportunity to further customise their machine-learning framework, called the ImmuneProfiler™,for specific vaccine platforms, facilitating the design of safer and more efficacious personalised cancer vaccines.

— We applied for the SME instrument grant as it represents a fantastic funding vehicle for cutting edge, innovative projects with huge commercial potential. The call matched our ambition to position OncoImmunity as the leading supplier of neoantigen identification software in the personalised cancer vaccine market, says Dr. Richard Stratford, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of OncoImmunity.

— This opportunity will also help us establish the requisite quality assurance systems, certifications, and clinical validation with our partners, to get our software approved as a medical device in both the EU and US, says Dr. Trevor Clancy, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder of OncoImmunity.

SMEs can apply
The SME Instrument is looking for high growth- and highly innovative SMEs with global ambitions. They are developing innovative technologies that have the potential to disrupt the established value networks and existing markets.

Companies applying for the SME Instrument must meet the requirements set by the programme. Please see the SME Instrument website for more information in English or the SME Instrument webpage of Innovation Norway for more information in Norwegian.

Curious about which companies have received the SME Instrument so far? Have look at this database with an overview of all the grant receiving companies in Europe.

Want to know which Norwegian companies received grants from The European Unions research programme Horizon2020 in 2018? Read this article from Innovation Norway (in Norwegian).

Oslo Cancer Cluster  supports members via the EU Advisor Program in collaboration with Innovayt, making them aware of relevant EU- and H2020 funding opportunities and helping them to identify the right calls for their development phase and goals. Oslo Cancer Cluster also assists with partner searches using national and international networks and provides direct support during the grant writing and submission process.