Nicky Blackburn
October 22, 2006, Updated September 13, 2012

Israeli biotechnology start-up Optimata has won a seal of approval for its new computerized virtual cancer patient technology from Cancer Research UK after a successful trial at Nottingham City Hospital.

In the joint clinical study held by Optimata and Cancer UK, it was found that Optimata’s Virtual Cancer Patient Engine (VCP) enabled doctors to correctly predict how individual breast cancer patients will respond to chemotherapy treatment in 70 percent of cases. This is substantially higher than the current prediction accuracy of oncologists which is estimated to be 25-30 percent.

In the study, which involved 33 patients suffering advanced breast cancer that has spread to the liver, lymph nodes or lungs, researchers programmed the VCP to model how individual breast cancer patients would be expected to respond to the chemotherapy drugs docetaxel or doxorubicin. These drugs can be used on their own to treat a number of cancers, but have different effects in different people, making treatment unpredictable.

The VCP looked at how the drugs would affect the growth of the cancer, how the drugs would behave in the body, how the cancer cells would respond to the drugs, and which drug out of the two would work best in each patient based on the size of their tumors and the speed at which they were growing.

Researchers then compared the predictions of the VCP with the actual response of the patients to test the effectiveness of the technology.

“We found the computer program accurately predicted how the patients responded to treatment in around 70 percent of cases,” said Dr. Stephen Chan, head of the Department of Clinical Oncology at Nottingham City Hospital and the director of the study.

“This was a very interesting early study that could potentially have a big impact on how cancer patients are treated in the future,” added Kate Law, director of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK. “Tailoring treatments to individual patients will ensure the best possible outcome for every patient. This is a hugely important area of cancer research.”

Optimata was founded in 1999 by world-renowned biomathematician Prof. Zvia Agur, the company’s chairman and chief scientific officer. It has been supported financially by private European investors, and Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which also paid for the Nottingham trial alongside Optimata.

Aside from the Nottingham City Hospital trial, the company is currently completing a bio-simulation clinical trial on breast cancer patients in collaboration with Soroka University Medical Center in Israel.

Optimata’s VCP technology is based on a computer-generated method of accurately predicting how individual patients or patient populations will respond to a compound. The technology combines computer models of human physiology, specific diseases and the therapeutic impact of a compound. The in-silico technology enables drug developers to conduct experiments at an unprecedented scale, enabling an unlimited number of “virtual trials” to be carried out on an almost infinite combination of dosages, treatment schedules and patient population characteristics.

Aside from drug development, the technology can also be used for drug treatment repurposing – enabling drug developers to find new uses for drugs that have not proven successful in development – and in clinics and hospitals for improving the efficacy of current drug treatments on patients.

By predicting how a drug will affect a patient, the technology allows doctors to tailor treatment more accurately to ensure that patients receive the most appropriate and effective therapy for their particular disease. Aside from increasing the efficacy of treatments, this can also reduce the amount of drug a patient needs to take, easing the often-debilitating side effects.

Though the technology can be used for any number of diseases, Optimata is focusing initially on cancer.

“This is a huge field,” said Agur.

The Nottingham City Hospital trial began in December 2004. “Every cancer is slightly different and every patient will respond to treatment differently. We wanted to find a way to predict how patients would respond to a particular drug in order to limit their side effects and give them the best chance of beating their disease,” said Dr. Abhik Mukherjee, from the hospital.

In the wake of this trial, Agur said new Phase II clinical trials are planned, which will compare the efficacy of the VCP against that of physicians in finding the best drug regime for patients. Agur said she hopes some of these trials will take place in the UK.

The 15-person company based in Ramat Gan has collaboration agreements for the use of its technology with multinational pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co., and other drug companies. The start-up now plans a new round of fund-raising, and hopes to raise about $3 million.

“We are thrilled with the results of this study which validates our technology and offers new hope for cancer patients,” said Guy Malchi, Optimata’s CEO. “In the clinical setting our VCP technology offers the prospect of made-to-measure, safer and more cost-efficient use of therapies. In the global drug industry the VCP already is transforming drug development as more and more biopharmaceutical companies are using our technology to predict the outcome of drug candidates.”

“The results of this study show the enormous potential the VCP has as a tool for treatment individualization,” added Agur.

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