Every neuro-degenerative disease leaves hints inside the body long before its outbreak – biomarkers, which are measurable parameters of biological processes. With its portable system, the startup iLoF – short for Intelligent Lab on Fiber – has created a digital gathering of these biomarkers: A library of fingerprints of various neuro-degenerative diseases. The exploitation of this library reduces the costs of clinical trial screening by 40 percent and the time spent on screening by as much as 70 percent. In an interview with 5-HT, iLoF’s COO Dr. Mehak Mumtaz gives away how iLoF will revolutionize clinical trials for neuro-degenerative diseases – starting with Alzheimer’s.
The ‘books of fingerprints’: What exactly is iLoF?
“iLoF is the world’s first cloud-based intelligent platform for identification of disease biomarkers and profiles in a label-free, non-invasive, inexpensive and portable way. We are enabling a new era of personalized medicine by using artificial intelligence and bio-photonics to build a library of disease biomarkers and biological profiles. This library is then used to provide screening and stratification tools. In essence, we are fingerprinting blood – portrayed in our logo – and then collecting these fingerprints in a library.”
Writing the ‘books of fingerprints’: How is iLoF’s library made?
“We use a few drops of blood to collect biomarkers or personalised biological profiles of different disease subtypes and store it in our virtual library, which can be equated with a fingerprint file. Our platform allows the label-free detection and identification of nano-scale biomarkers in easily accessible fluids like blood. We can use the platform to both detect single biomarkers at unprecedented sensitivities, or a combination hence creating a biological profile of the disease phenotype or stage. And very importantly we can do this in under 30 seconds, with accuracies over 90%, and without the use of labels.”
Open the ‘books of fingerprints’: What is the focus of iLoF’s library?
“Our main focus area is Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical trial failure in Alzheimer’s tops most other diseases, and one of the reasons for that apart from the complexity of the disease, is invasive inconvenient screening procedures like lumbur punctures or PET-CT scans. This causes many patients to drop out of trials, and contributes to the already high cost of procedures, making trials more than twice as expensive than the average. By using our non-invasive and low-cost platform to screen and stratify patients for clinical trials, we not only make the process more efficient, saving pharma companies both time and money, but also transform the patient experience, vital for patient retention.
This is only our initial focus. As iLoF is a platform, the applications go far beyond clinical studies. In the area of Oncology, for example, we have carried out pilots to stratify different subtypes of Gastric cancer, and, this differentiation between subtypes allows clinicians to define the most appropriate treatment for each case, maximizing effectiveness, while minimizing side effects.
During the pandemic, we also partnered with a hospital to work on COVID-19. We wanted to use our platform technology to be able to get a digital fingerprint of biomarkers in order to develop a low-cost stratification tool that can predict the clinical evolution of patients, aiding resource optimisation in heavily-burdened hospitals.
The aim for us is to be a platform with a library of various diseases.”
Selling the ‘books of fingerprints’: Who can benefit from iLoF’s library?
“We are a B2B business, and our clients are pharma companies and biotechs who are developing therapies for complex heterogenous diseases. Our focus is to accelerate the drug discovery process through providing convenient screening and stratification tools, making clinical trials easier, cheaper and faster to conduct, and transforming patient experience.
In the long term, we would like the platform to allow and accelerate the arrival of a new effective treatment for one of the many heterogeneous diseases still currently incurable (such as Alzheimer’s), changing the lives of millions of people suffering from complex pathologies across world.”
Binding the ‘books of fingerprints’: How was iLoF founded?
“We are a young startup, but the research that led to iLoF’s technology has been going on for a couple of years.
ILoF started with a project that involved several clinical and academic institutions, part of a Phd-project of our co-founder Joana Paiva, CTO of ILoF. Together with Paula Sampaio, co-founder and CSO, and Luís Valente, co-founder and CEO of iLoF, she decided to bring out her project on the market and applied to the Wild Card programme, an initiative by EIT Health, to create disruptive healthcare companies by providing resources, mentoring and so on. This is where I met Luís and Joana – and we decided to join forces.
We validated our initial idea through conversations with over a 100 different stakeholders, and decided to apply our technology to Alzheimer’s disease. We ended up raising funding and, since January, we have been working full-time for iLoF. We have grown the company to 15 people now, so it has been quite a rapid scale up.
Our R&D operation is based in Porto, Portugal, and we are headquartered at Oxford, UK, where we are incubated at Oxford Foundry, Oxford University’s startup incubator.”
Exploiting the ‘books of fingerprints’: How did you experience the last months, especially with COVID-19?
“We are extremely pleased that our work has been recognized. Over the span of a few months, we have two clients we are working with and numerous partnerships. Two of our co-founders got named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for science and healthcare, and the company has been nominated by CB insights as top 150 digital health company globally. We have also raised more funding from M12, Microsoft’s venture arm, and Mayfield Fund. It has been quite a ride!
For us, COVID-19 was actually an opportunity. We worked closely with our clinical partners and were asked to support with our technology, helping optimize resources and the same time building another usecase for the platform.”