Y Combinator backs cancer drug combo testing service

Y Combinator has unveiled another of its latest batch of biotech startups, Notable Labs. The company is aiming to end the long wait for improved treatments for glioblastoma multiforme by applying data analytics and robotics to the discovery of effective combinations of existing drugs.

The process involves taking cells from a resected brain tumor, applying combinations of approved drugs--for cancer and other indications--to them and telling the doctor which mix is most effective. Several IT innovations underpin the approach. Notable Labs has teamed with fellow Y Combinator startup Atomwise--which runs an in silico drug discovery operation--to make therapeutic predictions, TechCrunch reports. The company then uses a robotic system that runs on the Python programming language to apply thousands of combinations of drugs to a culture of the brain tumor cells.

Notable Labs hopes to improve the accuracy of the system over time by feeding data on how each combination performed in the real world into its drug-selection algorithm. The model could fast-track the repurposing of drugs and discovery of new combinations, potentially giving patients with the brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme better, more personalized treatment options. Multiple companies are developing new treatments for brain cancers, but as it stands a mix of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy remains the go-to option.

If Notable Labs is to improve the situation, it will have to overcome some sizable challenges, several of which co-founder Matt De Silva discussed on Hacker News. Many of the issues stem from what is potentially Notable Labs' biggest strength--the potential for it to bypass clinical trials. While the company thinks a mix of cell culture, mouse model and in silico tests can yield the safety and efficacy data it needs, many promising preclinical candidates have floundered when tested in humans. The first step to countering such concerns is a feasibility clinical trial, the starting of which is a top priority.

- read the TechCrunch profile
- here's the Hacker News thread