As part of its wide-ranging efforts to better target treatments to patients while reducing unnecessary tests and procedures, UPMC announced today that it is investing in and partnering with Cernostics, an oncology diagnostics company whose unique technology enables so-called “precision medicine.”
Through UPMC Enterprises, the commercialization arm of UPMC, the health system is the lead investor in a $5 million round of funding by Cernostics to help it grow and accelerate its introduction of a new diagnostic test for people with an esophageal condition called Barrett’s Esophagus that can lead to cancer.
“This strategic investment in Cernostics not only gives us a stake in what the company already has developed but will give our physicians and scientists access to Cernostics’ advanced technology platform for potentially developing a wide range of precision medicine tests,” said Tal Heppenstall, president of UPMC Enterprises.
“Having a partner like UPMC—with its world-renowned clinicians, a broad provider network, an innovative insurance arm, and the technology and business expertise offered through UPMC Enterprises—is a huge advantage to an early-stage company like Cernostics,” said Chief Executive Officer Mike Hoerres. “We are excited by the possibilities of what we can achieve together to revolutionize patient care.”
Current pathology testing is a largely manual and subjective process, with pathologists studying tissue and tumor samples under a microscope. Using digitally scanned images of a biopsy slide, Cernostics’ advanced software provides measurement and analysis of more than 13,000 features for each patient sample—including multiple biomarkers, or proteins; and where precisely in each cell of the tissue they are present.
The information produced by Cernostics TissueCypher™ platform can then be used to provide physicians and patients with individualized, actionable scores indicating diagnosis, prognosis or response to therapy. In Barrett’s Esophagus, for instance, Cernostics has developed a test that identifies high-risk patients who are almost 10 times more likely to progress to esophageal cancer within five years of biopsy vs. low-risk patients—something that is currently difficult to determine by standard pathology. This test could enable early intervention to prevent cancer in high-risk patients, and spare low-risk patients frequent and unnecessary endoscopies and treatments. Currently, about 3 to 4 million people in the U.S. are part of active surveillance programs for Barrett’s Esophagus.
Working together, UPMC and Cernostics hope to use TissueCypher to develop additional novel tests, beyond gastrointestinal conditions. “Our strategy is to assemble an array of technologies—including the Cernostics platform—that will enable UPMC to deliver precision medicine to our patients across a broad range of conditions,” said Mr. Heppenstall.
Based in Pittsburgh and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Cernostics has a long relationship with UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh. The original work around risk stratification for patients with Barrett’s Esophagus was conducted in collaboration with Pitt, resulting in multiple peer-reviewed publications. And UPMC physicians have contributed to the clinical validation studies and are planning wider use of the test at UPMC.
In addition to UPMC, investors in the company’s latest round of funding include Novitas Capital. Previous investors include Geisinger, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse.
Building on UPMC’s 20-year track record of successful commercialization activity, UPMC Enterprises is dedicated to creating exceptional health care innovations that will have a measurable impact on the quality and cost of care. By partnering with innovators like Cernostics, UPMC Enterprises is focused on creating and commercializing solutions in four key areas: clinical tools that will transform the delivery of care, population health management that will be essential in health care’s move from volume to value, consumer-centric health care, and business services that improve efficiency.