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May 15, 2023

This startup can predict the success of complex cancer treatments

Pear Bio uses microtumours taken from patient cells to predict how cancer will respond to treatments

Sadia Nowshin

3 min read

Pear Bio, a techbio startup working on improving the efficacy of cancer drug treatments, has raised a $14m Series A round led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from Hoxton Ventures, Crista Galli Ventures, SOSV, Fly Ventures and Compound Ventures. 

It’s one of many techbio startups in Europe that have raised cash to fix drug and treatment discovery — especially in cancer. Almost 30% of the $5.2bn that went to techbio startups in Europe in 2022 went to companies focused on oncology. 

What does Pear Bio do?

Pear Bio takes samples from tumour cells and breaks them into micro-tumours of 10k cells each, which are then used to test the effectiveness of different drugs like cancer treatments and immunotherapy. Results from these tests are combined with clinical data to power predictive models, which suggest how a specific patient will respond; the company uses computer vision software to visualise how the tumours are affected.  

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The special sauce, founder Duleek Ranatunga tells Sifted, lies in the fact that the company tests micro-tumours but also the immune cells in the blood surrounding them. Considering these extra cells in the testing process means that Pear Bio can show how treatments affect both the tumour and a patient’s immune response. 

So far, the startup has partnered with pharmaceutical companies to test new drugs on cells from 220 patients in R&D and clinical studies. These tests compared the treatment outcome predicted by Pear Bio’s model to the actual reaction, to demonstrate the platform’s accuracy. 

The tumour cells left over after treatments are fed into the startup’s drug discovery efforts, so it can study them and find out why they didn't respond to treatment. Those discoveries can then be used to develop new treatments. The company is currently focused on certain kinds of rare breast cancer and kidney cancer. 

Why do we need it?

Cancer treatments are complex, especially when they’re combined, like using a drug and immunotherapy together. That makes it difficult to accurately mirror real-world conditions for testing the efficacy of treatment plans. 

Pear Bio’s patient-tailored approach can work with the complexity of more complicated cancer cells, and hopes to improve the recovery rates of cancers that are currently underserved by the sector. This approach means that samples are both smaller and more complex, but combining them with computational models and wider clinical data can mitigate this. 

While the long time to market of novel drugs means that current patients won’t be able to benefit from new treatments developed from the targets in their tumour cells, the use of public databases to work out how frequently the mutations and proteins emerge in the general population of cancer patients can help future cases.

How’s the sector looking?

Pear Bio has lots of competitors in the precision medicine space — Xilis, a US-based precision platform technology developer, has a similar process with breaking down tumours to test treatments. According to Ranatunga, however, Pear Bio’s process is faster, returning test results in less than a week compared to the 10 days that Xilis needs. Once at clinical application stage, he highlights, this time saved could be vital for a cancer patient’s chance of successfully responding to treatment. 

Want investment-grade insight into the oncology sector? Read out Cancer therapeutics Briefing to meet the rising stars and success stories in Europe's startup scene. Available to Sifted subscribers.

Sadia Nowshin

Sadia Nowshin is a reporter at Sifted covering foodtech, biotech and startup life. Follow her on X and LinkedIn