Immunotherapy is becoming more and more effective in fighting cancer. Asylia Diagnostics develops tests to make the innovative therapy safer. “Belgium is a frontrunner in biotech and life sciences”, founder Andrey Khmelevskiy says. “imec.istart connects us to that network and opens closed doors for us.”
After his studies in Moscow, Andrey Khmelevskiy started a real odyssey. He studied in England, founded his own company there, then moved to Saudi Arabia to work for oil giant Aramco, before moving back to England to start yet another company. “I met Georges de Feu there, the founder of Lynxcare (a very successful healthtech scaleup and imec.istart alumnus). He brainwashed me into applying for imec.istart”, Andrey laughs. “I had only been in Belgium once, but I liked it, so I thought: ‘why not?’ I haven’t regretted that decision for one second.”
Asylia Diagnostics develops a platform intended to provide safer immunotherapy for cancer patients. “Immunotherapy is revolutionizing cancer therapy. Despite its tremendous success, only 15 to 40 percent of all cancer patients respond to immunotherapy and benefit from it. We don’t know yet what defines its success. On top of that, there are some serious safety risks connected to immunotherapy. One out of every six patients develops so-called hyperprogressive disease (HPD). This disease leads to the rapid mortality of patients. But up until now, it’s impossible to predict who will develop HPD and who won’t. It’s like Russian roulette.”
“We are developing molecular diagnostic tests to predict hyperprogressive disease in patients receiving immunotherapy. Our team is a mix of technological profiles and people with a medical background. Our tests combine two pieces of information: the patient’s biopsy and clinical assessment information. Artificial intelligence helps us detecting high-risk patients. When they have a high chance of developing HPD, doctors can opt for alternative cancer therapy. The test can drastically reduce the safety risk.”
Asylia Diagnostics has filed IP for the HPD-tests and is currently running clinical studies in different hospitals. With a great help from imec.istart, Andrey emphasizes. “Belgium is a frontrunner in biotech and health-tech. This is a very fertile ground for a startup like Asylia Diagnostics. imec.istarts connects us to that ecosystem.
“The support of imec.istart doesn’t stop at the border. Last summer, we were a part of MASSConnect, the mentoring program of MASSBio in Massachusetts, home of the biggest life sciences cluster. That was a huge break for Asylia Diagnostics. It was imec.istart that led us to Massachusetts.”
“I feel very much at home in Belgium, but the US is a huge market for our startup. 750,000 cancer patients are eligible for immunotherapy and 320,000 of them are eligible for hyperprogressive disease. If all goes to plan, we should launch our first tests – for melanomas and for lung tumors – in 2022.”