UNIM, a resident startup of the Skolkovo Foundation’s biomed cluster that provides remote cancer diagnosis services, has raised investment from Medme, a strategic investor on the digital medicine market. Under the terms of the deal, the details of which are not being disclosed, Medme has become a shareholder of UNIM, which is valued at $2 million. The investment deal was concluded with the participation of the Skolkovo Foundation’s investment service.
UNIM uses Digital Pathology to make digital slides that can be examined by doctors anywhere in the world. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
UNIM uses Digital Pathology – the conversion of glass slides into digital slides – to allow patients to obtain a histological, immunohistochemical or molecular analysis of their tumour and consultation on treatment and rehabilitation from the top specialists in their field, regardless of the patient’s location and without the need to travel to another city or abroad. It was the first company in Russia to introduce Digital Pathology to the field of cancer diagnosis.
“We believe the field of remote interpretation and diagnosis is a highly promising one,” said Ilya Slutsky, a managing partner at Medme. “Today, histological and immunohistochemical research is the only definitive diagnosis method in the world. At the same time, in many areas, and not only in Russia, there is a huge deficit of pathologists and specialists. UNIM’s service helps to solve this problem.”
A full analysis of the tumour is used to determine the most effective form of treatment for the cancer, from chemotherapy and radiation treatment to surgery. In Russia, the remote cancer diagnosis system devised by UNIM is used by 10 federal and regional cancer centres. UNIM’s principle is that several specialists examine the materials, and if they cannot agree on a diagnosis, specialists in Europe and the U.S. are consulted at no extra cost to the patient. The Digital Pathology system is used by 1,400 specialists, having more than doubled in size last year, in countries including Russia, the U.S., U.K. and Germany.
The global digital health market’s value is estimated at trillions of dollars over the next 10 years.
“We haven’t just developed a good product, we’re managed to introduce new technologies into the process of diagnosing cancers, which is much more difficult,” said Alexei Remez, founder and CEO of UNIM.
“Together with our new partner, we’ve set ourselves the ambitious and interesting mission of becoming a leader on the cancer diagnosis market in Russia and of introducing digital technologies into the process of making cancer diagnoses,” he said.
UNIM became a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation in 2015 after winning the diagnosis systems category of the OncoBioMed competition jointly organised by the foundation and the Federal Agency of Scientific Organisations. The startup was awarded prize money to develop its technology.
“In 2016, UNIM made it through to the final of the [Skolkovo Foundation’s annual] Startup Village, and we’re really pleased now that the project is attracting funding from a strategic investor,” said Vera Rybko, a project manager within Skolkovo’s biomed cluster.
“We hope that future support from Skolkovo and Medme will help with UNIM’s further development,” she added.
Medme works with innovative digital health clusters in Russia, Italy, France, Poland and other countries to develop the field and create points of growth on the global digital health market, whose potential value is estimated at trillions of dollars over the next 10 years.
UNIM is also backed by the Internet Initiatives Development Fund, a state-backed venture capital firm. In the past year, the medical startup has increased its revenues by 150 percent.
Advanced Gene & Cell Technologies (AGCT), a resident startup of the Skolkovo Foundation’s biomed cluster, has received the first tranche of investment from the RBV Capital venture fund allocated to carry out Russia’s first clinical practice of genome editing to treat HIV. AGCT plans to use the investment, which totals 44 million rubles ($738,000), to draw up a raft of preclinical data to carry out pilot phase one and two clinical research.
RBV’s Alexei Konov and AGCT’s Marina Popova sign the investment deal at the 2017 Skolkovo Startup Village. Photo: Sk.ru.
The St. Petersburg-based company is developing a method to treat HIV by editing a person’s DNA. The aim is to treat patients with lymphomas (blood cell tumours) and HIV, for whom a bone marrow transplant is justified. The technology is based on altering the CCR5 coreceptor gene, which is responsible for the HIV virus’s entry to cells, inside the patient’s bone marrow cells. After the cells are extracted from the bone marrow and edited ex vivo to remove the CCR5 coreceptor, they are then transplanted back into the patient, where they enter the immune system and become impervious to the most common HIV subtypes.
“The use of genome editing in HIV treatment was discovered by chance, because there are some people who have a natural immunity to HIV via a gene mutation: that is to say, nature already invented a cure for HIV,” Marina Popova, AGCT’s CEO and founder, told a panel discussion held as part of Skolkovo’s annual Startup Village event last year.
Timothy Brown, known as the “Berlin patient,” is the only person in the world believed to have been cured of HIV. After he received a bone-marrow transplant in Germany for leukaemia in 2007, his HIV became undetectable, seemingly because the bone marrow donor harboured a rare mutation of the CCR5 receptor that gave them natural immunity. It is upon this case that AGCT’s technology is based.
If AGCT’s technology proves successful, it could mean that patients with HIV-associated tumours do not have to be given lifelong antiretroviral therapy. It could also be used to treat HIV patients who don’t have tumours but whose bodies have proved resistant to antiretroviral therapy, as well as patients whose immune cells have not started restoring themselves, despite antiretroviral therapy. It is a new approach to HIV treatment that the company says will relieve the burden on the health system and improve patients’ quality of life.
The investment from RBV Capital was announced on the stage of the Skolkovo Foundation’s annual outdoor Startup Village last month. The foundation’s investment service acted as a consultant on the deal.
“The involvement of RBV Capital, a professional venture investor, demonstrates trust in the AGCT team’s developments in the field of cell technologies and DNA editing,” said Popova in a press release announcing the receipt of the first tranche of financing.
Popova pictured at the Startup Village 2016, when her company won a prize of 2 million rubles. Photo: Sk.ru.
“Our research and development is carried out in close cooperation with the Pavlov First St. Petersburg State Medical University. Receiving financial support will enable us to take a step towards the application of the latest methods of genome editing in clinical practice,” she said.
AGCT works together with the state Agency for Strategic Initiatives and is taking part in the implementation of the National Technology Initiative, which provides it with the opportunity to work together with the Health Ministry on creating a legislative framework for the use of genome editing in clinical practice, the company said in its press release.
“AGCT is successfully developing innovative genome editing technologies for the treatment of HIV, and we hope that RBV Capital’s investment and our industrial expertise will enable the company to perform all the stages of clinical trials and get its breakthrough technology out onto the market,” said Alexei Konov, managing partner at RBV Capital, which was created with capital from both Russian Venture Capital, a state investment vehicle, and the private Russian pharmaceutical company R-Pharm.
The investment in AGCT is the venture fund’s fourth investment, and its first in Russia, said Konov.
Kirill Kaem, acting senior vice-president for innovations at the Skolkovo Foundation and head of its biomed cluster, said he was “really pleased with AGCT’s dynamic development.”
“The company’s project is unique in that it brings together the innovative technology of genome editing and expertise in the transplantation of bone marrow to treat haematological cancers. The company became a Skolkovo resident in 2015 as a result of winning the OncoBioMed competition, received support in the form of grants and mentorship, and won a prize at the Startup Village 2016. With the involvement of Skolkovo’s investment service, the company was able to attract a specialised investor. This deal is a good example of cooperation between various support mechanisms provided by the state and private investors,” said Kaem.