Cancers are mainly diagnosed using biopsies. During this process, a tumor sample is taken, chemically and physically processed, fixed on a slide, stained, and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. Overall, this process is slow, error-prone, and highly subjective. In recent years, the field of digital pathology has focused on allowing pathologists to view tissues on a computer screen and use computational tools to define the spatial relationships of cells in the tumor. Still, there is a need for more reliable methods, as current methods do not accurately detect changes within the tumor environment.
The mission of SpIntellx is to revolutionize computational pathology for precision medicine. The company’s computational pathology software can define the spatial relationships between cells and molecular components within solid tumors and other diseased tissues. The technology uses advanced computational methods – like unbiased spatial analytics, functional phenotyping, microdomain discovery, and explainable AI, to pinpoint regions of interest for pathologists to review. This leads to more precise, tailored therapeutic strategies, better selection of drug targets, optimal selection of cohorts for clinical trials, dramatic improvement in disease prognoses/diagnoses, and increased efficiency and accuracy of pathology workflows. Ultimately, this technology serves as an “expert consultant” for pathologists and clinicians, informing therapeutic strategies and clinical decisions.
Finding precision medicine approaches for solid tumors is difficult because of the many different cell types that can be found inside of the tumor. Within a single tumor, the spatial relationships between cancer, stromal, and immune cells can vary drastically. The spatial context of these various cells influences the diagnosis and prognosis of cancer subtypes and affects how a person responds to therapy. Inaccurate diagnostic and prognostic tests are major contributors to cancer progression and drug resistance.
Team background and research experiences:
To tackle this problem, SpIntellx was formed by a team of clinicians and scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC led by D. Lansing Taylor, PhD; Michael J. Becich, MD, PhD and including S. Chakra Chennubhotla, PhD; Jeffrey L. Fine, MD; A. Burak Tosun, PhD and Filippo Pullara, PhD. Initially funded by the PHDA, the team successfully combined their diverse expertise – including spatial statistics-based image analysis and machine learning, image-based diagnostics, breast cancer biology and pathology, computational pathology, and software engineering. The team has now formed a Pitt licensed startup company, and successfully raised funds to further develop their product platform. Earlier this year, SpIntellx participated in the inaugural cohort of the Alpha Lab Health accelerator.
At what stage did PHDA/CCA step in and how did it help?
- The PHDA/CCA stepped in early to shape the growth strategy for the company and further helped in the formation of the company.
- The CCA team integrated Katie Farraro (then a commercial translation associate) and Andrew Brown (then a program manager) into the SpIntellx team to help build a business case around the core SpIntellx technology. The aim was to showcase its broad applicability during a PHDA “Demo Day” near the completion of project funding.
- Although SpIntellx’s initial focus was in breast tissue pathology, the SpIntellx and CCA teams worked with clinical key opinion leaders from UPMC and digital pathology experts from UPMC Enterprises to prioritize other potential tissue types, imaging modalities, and clinical use cases that the SpIntellx technology could be applied to.
- Working with CCA, UPMC Enterprises, and external advisors, the SpIntellx team was able to build a compelling pitch deck that highlighted the optimal technical and commercialization milestones needed to obtain seed funding from a regional investor shortly after the completion of CCA
What has the company achieved since receiving funding from PHDA?
- Developed a dual-track software platform approach for both transmitted light (HistoMapr™) and fluorescence/mass spec (TumorMapr™) that is unique in the field.
- Created a well-differentiated and very strong intellectual property portfolio (1 Patent, 5 PCTs, 1 Divisional, 3 Provisionals), with proprietary spatial analytics and explainable AI forming the core of SpIntellx business strategy.
- Demonstrated very strong initial validation data and publications for HistoMapr-Breast™ and TumorMapr-Colon™.
- Recently released strong marketing white papers for TumorMapr™ and HistoMapr™.
- Built excellent early collaborations and partnerships, including CellNetix Pathology and Laboratories for Histomapr-Breast™.
What is the next milestone the company is working towards?
- Raising Series A funding.