Cernostics, an oncology diagnostics company whose unique technology enables “precision medicine,” has received a lead investment of $1.3 million toward its $5 million funding round by Novitas Capital and UPMC Enterprises, the commercialization arm of integrated healthcare system UPMC. Cernostics is a client of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) and resides in Ben Franklin TechVentures®, an award-winning business incubator owned and managed by BFTP/NEP on Lehigh University’s campus in Bethlehem, PA.
The new investment will allow Cernostics to accelerate the development of its diagnostic and prognostic test that predicts the risk of developing esophageal cancer among people with Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer is the fastest-growing cancer by incidence in western countries.
“This strategic investment in Cernostics not only gives us a stake in what the company already has developed but will give our physicians and scientists access to Cernostics’ advanced technology platform for potentially developing a wide range of precision medicine tests,” said Tal Heppenstall, president of UPMC Enterprises.
“Having a partner like UPMC, with its world-renowned clinicians, a broad provider network, an innovative insurance arm, and the technology and business expertise offered through UPMC Enterprises, is a huge advantage to an early-stage company like Cernostics,” said Chief Executive Officer Mike Hoerres. “We are excited by the possibilities of what we can achieve together to revolutionize patient care.”
Current pathology testing is a largely manual and subjective process, with pathologists studying tissue and tumor samples under a microscope. Using digitally scanned images of a biopsy slide, Cernostics’ advanced software provides measurement and analysis of more than 13,000 features for each patient sample, including multiple biomarkers, or proteins, and where precisely in each cell of the tissue they are present.
The information produced by Cernostics’ TissueCypher™ platform can then be used to provide physicians and patients with individualized, actionable scores indicating diagnosis, prognosis, or response to therapy. In Barrett’s Esophagus, for instance, Cernostics has developed a test that identifies high-risk patients who are almost 10 times more likely to progress to esophageal cancer within five years of biopsy versus low-risk patients, something that is currently difficult to determine by standard pathology. This test could enable early intervention to prevent cancer in high-risk patients, and spare low-risk patients frequent and unnecessary endoscopies and treatments. Currently, about three to four million people in the U.S. are part of active surveillance programs for Barrett’s Esophagus.
Based in Bethlehem and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cernostics has a long relationship with UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh. Cernostics conducted its original work around risk stratification for patients with Barrett’s Esophagus in collaboration with Pitt, resulting in multiple peer-reviewed publications. And UPMC physicians have contributed to the clinical validation studies and are planning wider use of the test at UPMC.
In addition to UPMC, investors in the company’s latest round of funding include Novitas Capital. Previous investors include Geisinger, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. See coverage via MedCity News, Morning Call and Lehigh Valley Business.