Winners of the deep tech category of Microsoft’s 2020 Female Founders Competition seeks to disrupt the current landscape of clinical trials and screening.
The oxford-based company, iLoF, is using AI and photonics to build a cloud-based library of disease biomarkers, which it says has the potential to democratise the development of personalised therapies for the mass market.
iLoF hopes its platform will address a number of issues with current methods of drug discovery and development by identifying and stratifying subtypes of patients that are recruited to test therapies.
Co-founder and COO of iLoF, Mehak Mumtaz, says: “Currently, there is a lot of noise in the outcomes of clinical trials. With the current approach to drug development, all patients with the same condition receive the same first-line treatment, because it assumes that all patients with a particular condition respond similarly to a given drug.
“However, in reality, this isn’t true. Most diseases are an incredibly complex interaction of our biological makeup and the diverse pathological and physiological process in our body.”
iLoF believes that a complex disease should no longer be considered as a single entity, but rather as a disease that has many different forms of subtypes.
“Based on these different subtypes, treatments need to be tailored in order to improve the way we treat diseases,” says Mumtaz. “This is what personalised medicine is.”
The platform uses a few drops of blood to collect biomarkers of different disease subtypes using a photonics device. These are then stored in a virtual library, similar to a fingerprint file.
The database is used to provide screening and stratification tools for recruiting patients for clinical trials. iLoF says the platform uses AI technology to make the recruitment process more efficient and patient-friendly.
Mumtaz says: “iLoF is the world’s first cloud-based intelligent platform for identification of disease, biomarkers, and biological profiles. And we do it in a label-free, non-invasive, inexpensive and portable way.
“Our platform allows for the identification of nanoscale biomarkers in easily accessible fluids, like blood.
“So, in under 30 seconds, we can use the platform to detect single or a combination of biomarkers at unprecedented sensitivities, which enables us to create a personalised biological profile of a disease, phenotype or stage.
“What is really innovative and disruptive about this is the fact that we can achieve these results without the usage of expensive consumables like antibodies, in a minimally invasive fluid like blood, and without the use of expensive million-dollar equipment.”
Launched in 2018, The Microsoft Female Founders Competition is a global contest aiming to identify and support women-led deep tech and enterprise software companies.
Led by M12, Microsoft’s venture capital arm, along with Silicon Valley-based fund, Mayfield and Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures, the competition awarded $6 million to four companies in July of this year.
Although initially intended to take place in Silicon Valley, the pitching phase was moved online when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Mumtaz says: “While a lot of investors had halted decisions and many programmes were delayed, there was a conscious decision by M12 and its partners to make sure that they kept it on track and delivered on their commitment. We were very impressed by the speed with which they adapted to the new norm.
“This was the first time that my team and I had pitched online. I was actually in Pakistan as I had travelled over to meet my parents and then became stuck due to the lockdown.
“So, we were pitching as a team from two different locations to a panel of investors in another location. It was the start of how things have been in the pandemic for us. It was a completely different environment and style or working which we had to adapt to.”
Despite there being challenges, iLoF says the pandemic helped accelerate the company due to opportunities arising to apply its platform to combat the spread of COVID-19.
iLoF partnered with the Faculty of Medicine in St. John’s Hospital in Portugal, where the company’s R&D and engineering centre is located, to create a stratification tool used to forecast the clinical evolution of a patient infected with COVID-19.
Mumtaz says: “The purpose of this was to be able to aid hospitals with resource optimisation, so clinicians can decide whether to send a patient home if they are predicted to have only mild symptoms, or to keep them in the hospital if their symptoms are predicted to be severe.”
iLoF has struck up partnerships with several hospitals in the UK and Portugal and intends to use its recently awarded funding to establish collaborations with more medical institutions and expand its team to twenty people by the end of the year. The company will also embark on several new projects and pilots with its clinical partners.
Mumtaz says: “Our goal is to become the smart platform that can democratise access to personalised medicine and enable pharma and biotech companies to develop accurate personalised treatments in a flexible and efficient way.”