Colon cancer is considered one of the deadliest cancers, and according to the World Health Organization, in 2020 it was responsible for one-fifth of all cancer-related deaths in the world. One way to detect the disease early is a colonoscopy, a test that can save lives – but is invasive and very unpleasant – which leads quite a few people to not go through with it. A new Israeli startup is now offering a new development, which could replace this test, and literally, save lives.
Replace the colonoscopy with a simple home test
The Israeli startup Biotax is developing a test that can save people the pain and hassle of clinical examinations to determine if they have colon cancer. The solution involves the use of a simple household stool test and advanced algorithms.
The development is based on a study by Professor Naama Geva Ztorsky of the Technion, who is also the company's Chief Scientist and one of the founders and analyzes the tests by identifying "bacterial signatures" that are indicative of the development of precancerous polyps in the patients.
To make such a test, Biotax first developed the ability to deeply embed bacterial DNA in methods that make it possible to increase the identification capabilities of genomic components in bacterial species and subspecies; then they added a machine learning system based on the logical conditioning of deep networks – so that an "understanding" of the biology and functionality of the microbiome is achieved, that is, the entire population of microorganisms present in the human body. The interaction between different bacterial groups and the immune system is analyzed in the cloud, in this case, AWS; the system performs an analysis of huge amounts of genomic information very quickly.
The plan: expand to other types of cancers
"If all goes well, in a few years, Biotax will have a home screening test that can be performed on the population at risk for colon cancer as well as adults over the age of 50. The test will be able to identify colorectal cancer cells before it blows up which will significantly reduce the number of people diagnosed with colon cancer,” explained one of the company’s founders Shay Hilel, in a conversation with Geektime.
Today, Biotax is already completing the development of its computational and diagnostic platform, built using information from three different sources: clinical trials it has conducted; researchers and medical centers that have given the company access to their information; and open information available to the public. The company is currently in a clinical trial with two hospitals in Israel.
What do you think the development's main advantage is over the current market norm for testing?
"Biotax has two significant advantages in the market: the first is the ability to identify the polyps (which are the lesions that become cancerous) in their precancerous stages, allowing for medical intervention and removal of the polyps before they become cancerous. The second is that through our unique information analysis –which also allows for long-term analysis and can examine the variability of parameters and biological markers – we will be able to find biomarkers for other diseases in the future."
Hilel tells us that some of the company's competitors already have FDA approval to market their products in the United States and that Biotax is now in the early stages of the U.S. regulatory process – which is also the company's main target market. Biotax was founded by Shay Hilel, Professor Naama Geva Zatorsky and Dean Light (CTO). The company employs about 10 people and consultants. To date, the company has raised $ 2.4 million from Zora.VC, the biotech company Illumina (which Biotax also took part in their accelerator program), Illumina's business partners and private investors.