P2 Billion Raised: This Filipino CEO's Biotech Startup is Working On Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer
Most profiles of Aldo Carrascoso introduce him as a serial entrepreneur, but ask the man himself and he prefers the term “serial problem target.”
“I always seem to be facing some kind of problem,” he says during a Zoom call with local journalists.
That may be true, but the guy has gotten pretty good at solving them, too. And this latest one is the biggest one yet. As CEO and co-founder of Intervenn Biosciences, a medical research and biotechnology startup based in San Francisco, California, Carrascoso is leading a team of internationally recognized doctors, scientists and researchers in developing what can only be described as a game-changer in the field of cancer detection and diagnosis.
And the breakthrough is not going unnoticed. Last month, the company announced that it has raised $34 million (about P1.64 billion) in a Series B fundraising, which will be used to further develop its platform of precision medicine and make it available commercially. The latest round was led by Anzu Partners and participated in by Genoa Ventures, Amplify Partners, and True Ventures with Xeraya Capital as well as the Ojjeh family. In 2018, InterVenn received an institutional investment of $9.4 million (P452 million) from Genoa Ventures, with participation from True Ventures, Amplify Partners, Boost VC, and Prado SV. In total, the company has received over P2 billion in funding.
Aldo Carrascoso is the Filipino CEO and co-founder of InterVenn Biosciences
What Intervenn is doing
Intervenn’s platform involves glycoproteomics, or the study of a subset of proteins that is present in all living creatures. According to Carrascoso, glycoproteins have become a sort of “biomarker” that doctors can examine to tell if someone is likely to develop diseases, including cancer.
While glycoproteomics has been known for years, massive amounts of data generated by analyzing strings of these glycoproteins made it extremely difficult, not to mention time-consuming, to glean any actionable insights or solutions. Carrascoso explains that what Intervenn has done is to develop an AI that is able to sift through mountains of data in 12 minutes (“and eventually 12 seconds”) what ordinarily would have taken scientists up to 12 months to decipher.
“The science has been hiding in plain sight,” Carrascoso says. “It’s next-generation type of technology to solve problems (and) that will point to a cure.”
There are a lot more details and nuance in the entire process, but essentially, with Intervenn’s technology, doctors can now be able to tell with a fair degree of certainty whether a patient has or will develop certain types of cancer. The technology will also help avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful surgical intervention in patients who don’t need it.
Its initial study called VOCAL (Intervenn Ovarian Cancer Liquid biopsy) is a clinical decision-making tool for ovarian cancer. Through a simple blood test, doctors can examine a pelvic mass in a woman and be able to distinguish malignant pelvic tumors from benign ones. It’s a significant step in the fight against ovarian cancer considering that the disease is commonly detected when it is in its later stages. Data show that when detected in its early stages, the survival rate of patients shoots up to 90 percent.
A personal mission
The implications of this technology is world-changing, to say the least, but for Carrascoso it’s also very personal. His mother died of breast cancer in the 1990s and, more recently, a cousin was also diagnosed with the same disease and succumbed to it in February this year.
“Intervenn is definitely a calling,” he says.
Carrascoso used to be a software engineer and was also involved in at least four other ventures, including a video startup as well as being a Bitcoin miner, back during the early days of the cryptocurrency. The involvement with biotechnology started when he met his co-founders in the company, Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi and Dr. Carlito Lebrilla. Having assembled an enviable team of some of the brightest minds in their respective fields, the push now is to get their suite of technologies further in the testing phases and eventually to commercial availability, which he hopes to happen by early next year.
In addition to ovarian cancer, the company is working to find solutions in the detection of other types of cancer, including pancreatic, liver, prostate, throat, and kidney. Carrascoso adds that the application of the technology might also extend to the fight against COVID-19.
InterVenn scientists go over some samples sent to the company's Bay Area lab
“We’re doing trials to help out some hospitals to predict patients who need critical care,” he says. “It may sound too good to be true, but in this case, it’s real.
“Perhaps the one good thing about this pandemic is that healthcare has become top of mind for a lot of people,” Carrascoso adds. “I think that’s a positive thing. It’s given people pause to focus on their health.”
Filipinos at the forefront
One other noteworthy aspect of Intervenn is that while the company is headquartered in San Francisco, the company maintains an office here in Manila. From a team of 10 just a few months ago, Intervenn now counts a staff of about 30 based locally. It’s something that Carrascoso wants to emphasize.
“We wrote most of the AI,” he says. “One hundred percent of the software is done in the Philippines. I just want people to know that the technology is coming from Filipinos.”
Intervenn is currently looking for patients to join its international clinical trial for its VOCAL study. Clinical trials in the country are being conducted in the Philippine General Hospital, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, and The Medical City.
Interested patients who want to enroll in InterVenn’s VOCAL program in the Philippines may visit this site and carefully fill out the necessary forms and information required.