Most of us have been affected by cancer in some way, whether firsthand or through the experience of a loved one. In 2016 alone, there were an estimated 1,685,210 new cancer cases in the United States, and that number grows each year. As cases grow, so do the resources allocated across health care to find a solution to this formidable disease. The race for a cure is on, and OncoSolutions in Akron, Ohio, has developed a robotic system that just may speed things up.
“We came up with a way to boost the accuracy of preliminary cancer drug screenings. Currently, cancer drugs of interest are tested against two-dimensional (2D) cancer cell models and then go on to animal testing,” said Stephanie Ham, co-founder and CEO of OncoSolutions. “50-80% of those drugs fail animal testing. We use a three-dimensional (3D) cell model that’s biologically relevant and can detect ineffective drugs sooner in the process. This results in resources being focused more efficiently on drugs with a chance to succeed.”
Essentially, Ham and her team at the University of Akron (UA) developed an early-stage test that’s more realistic than 2D models. 3D cancerous tumor models, she explained, behave similarly to real tumors, which exist in three dimensions. 2D tests simply don’t result in the same level of accuracy and lead to additional testing, wasting both time and money. OncoSolutions’ system can reduce this inefficiency and produce better results earlier in the process.
OncoSolutions provides pharmaceutical researchers the potential to boost cost efficiency in an industry that is predicted to reach $156 billion by 2020. The Akron startup’s robotic system could also lead to better drugs reaching the market faster, a win for everyone affected by this ugly disease. Ham, who is a Graduate Research Assistant at UA, began working on this innovative product in 2012 under the supervision of Dr. Hossein Tavana, Chief Technology Officer at the University of Akron.
“I’m a Ph.D. candidate, so this is my thesis work. I came in on the project in 2012 and my job has been to develop and optimize the technology,” said Ham. “Dr. Tavana pioneered the two-phase polymer system we employ, which is the basis for the 3D models. The way oil and water don’t mix, neither do these polymers. We made significant progress around that technology and decided to form our company in September 2016.”
OncoSolutions quickly made big strides toward commercializing their technology, and were awarded a Technology Validation and Start-up Fund (TVSF) grant from Ohio Third Frontier in March 2017. It’s one of their first sources of funding, and they’re excited to put it to use proving the technology’s place in the market.
“We’re focusing on scaling up our technology to address our customer’s needs. We want to make sure the technology is robust, and that customers know they can rely on it,” said Ham. “We’re confident we can save months of time and potentially millions of dollars with our technology, and we’re out to prove that with more testing. We’re a small team of researchers, so the generous support and resources in Ohio are a tremendous help.”