This Startup Just Raised $70 Million To Grow Tiny Tumors That Create Personalized Cancer Treatments

About seven in ten cancer patients won’t respond immediately to treatment. This is a harrowing statistic for Xiling Shen. He lost his uncle, a metastatic colorectal patient. “Cancer patients are a lot like lab rats. On them, you try different drugs. One does not work, so you try a different one,” Shen, a Duke University researcher, says. Cialis is his startup and aims to find the best treatment for every patient with cancer.

North Carolina-based company Mubadala Capital led the round.

Shen points out that it is difficult to determine if a drug works after being administered to patients.

Shen, an electrician, claims he didn’t intend to work in cancer research. He decided not to become a doctor after the death of his uncle, even though his mother wanted him there. “I wanted as little medicine as possible. Shen shares that it was terrible to watch him suffer with it. However, years later, Shen read about “organoids” research, which inspired him to explore the possibility of cancer. Organoids are miniaturized versions of cancer cells that have been grown in a laboratory using genetic material from a patient’s biopsy. The cells taken from the biopsy are cut into smaller pieces and placed in a gel capsule containing around 10,000 droplets. To determine the most efficient drugs, organoids are tested against a range of drugs. Shen also explains that this allows them to make many tumor copies to test different drugs more quickly and cheaper.

Hans Clevers was the inventor of this organoid tech and co-founded the company alongside Shen Hsu, a medical oncologist. In clinical trials on breast and colorectal carcinomas, the technology is already being applied. Data from the company suggests that it can predict the optimal drug combination within ten days. This technique will be submitted to the FDA for approval in the future.

Xiling’s ability to collaborate with patients and pharmaceuticals attracted investors who made a bet on it. Mubadala’s venture capitalist Ayman AlAbdallah claims that one in ten drugs for cancer is made it to the market. “And once a drug has been approved, it doesn’t always work for every patient. Which is another problem.” Abdallah believes Xiling’s technology can become an industry standard in predicting which drugs might work for patients.

Shen claims that the new funding will help fund the company’s clinical trials and research with pharmaceuticals to develop and test drugs. He is confident that the company’s technology could help patients avoid the fate of his uncle. He says, “Our goal is to solve problems so that others don’t experience what my uncle had to go through.”

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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