Cancer is a devastating illness that affects a large population of patients in the United States. In fact, it is estimated by the National Cancer Institute that in the year 2018 alone, 1.73535 million patients will be diagnosed with cancer and 609,640 Americans will succumb to the ailment. However, thanks to incredible advances in the areas of cancer diagnostics and immunotherapy, the mortality rate may change drastically ahead. At the helm of innovation in the cancer diagnostics and immunotherapy markets, we find ITUS Corp (NASDAQ: ITUS).
What Is ITUS?
Founded in 1982, but repositioned a couple of years ago, ITUS Corp is no stranger to the biotechnology space. The company’s primary focus is on both speeding up the process and relieving the invasiveness associated with cancer diagnostics, and treating cancer with innovative treatment options. Currently, the company is working on the development of two primary products, the first, CCheckTM, is a liquid biopsy diagnostic tool for the early detection of cancer. The second of these products, a CAR-T technology, is being developed for the treatment of cancer.
Looking Into Diagnostics
In the world of medicine and diagnostics, nothing is really a perfect science. In medicine, we know that medications come with side effects. It’s part of the process. On the diagnostics end of the spectrum, there are also challenges. In fact, for a cancer diagnostics screen to be a success, it must have four things:
- Reliability – False positives are commonly seen in cancer diagnostics. In fact, widely accepted diagnostic tests like the mammogram for breast cancer, PSA test for prostate cancer and low dose CT for lung cancer all have faced reliability issues.
- Accuracy – You may be surprised to find that some cancer screenings, like the PSA screening, are known to have poor accuracy issues, failing to detect when cancer is present.
- Easy – Often cancer screenings are not easy. As a result, many are not used. Screening options like colonoscopies are invasive and can be difficult for the patient.
- Affordability – At the end of the day, if the patient, or our healthcare system,cannot afford the diagnotic test, chancers are that they won’t get it. However, there are high expenses involved in most diagnostic options.
These are the problems that ITUS is working to solve with their liquid biopsy cancer screening, known as CCheckTM. In fact, this diagnostic tool checks all of the boxes:
- Reliability – Preliminary data surrounding the CCheckTM liquid biopsy are incredible. In fact, when it comes to reliability, or how good a test is at distinguishing cancer patients from healthy patients, CCheckTM scored a 91%. This is overwhelmingly impressive when compared to LDCT at 73%, PSA at 63% and Mammogram at 75%.
- Accuracy – Accuracy measures, or how good a test is at detecting cancer, were also off the charts at 91%. While LDCT screenings have accuracy of 93%, PSA only scores 35%, mammogram screenings only score 68%.
- Easy – Unlike various invasive cancer screenings, CCheckTM is incredibly easy. In fact, the screening is a liquid biopsy, which means that it is nothing more than a simple blood test, making it more comfortable for patients to get screened.
- Affordability – The CCheckTM diagnostic screening is incredibly affordable in comparison to other options.
ITUS Brings Artificial Intelligence To Oncology
Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used in just about every facet of our lives. Advertisers use AI to find the right audience at the right price; engineers at Google, Apple, and others are using AI to drive autonomous vehicles; and consumers are using AI to do everything from turn on the lights in their homes to tell them what’s in their refrigerator when they are out grocery shopping. The reality is that the use of AI is limitless, and ITUS saw an opportunity in that fact.
The technology that powers the CCheckTM diagnostic screening is known as a Neural Network, or NN. NN is a proprietary AI system that is specifically focused on the recognition of complex patterns. In fact, NN has been trained through AI and machine learning to distinguish the difference between the immunological responses of cancer patients and of healthy patients. In order to do so, NN relies on up to 15 quantitative parameters on over 40,000 cells for each patient, when analyzing test results.
Interestingly enough, ITUS has already made NN overwhelmingly reliable and accurate, with accuracy and reliability rates at 91%. However, due to the machine learning capabilities of the AI system, as it processes more and more samples, the system will learn how to make even more accurate and reliable distinctions. Considering that the NN system is not subject to human error or bias, it is believed that it may lead to the most accurate results in the diagnosis of cancer.
CCheckTM Has Been Validated With 15 Cancer Types
The accuracy and reliability of the CCheckTM system, thanks to the NN AI, is accurate among multiple different types of cancer. In fact, to date, it has been validated in breast, lung, colon, prostate, ovarian, liver, thyroid, pancreatic, appendiceal, uterine, and vulvar cancers as well as melanoma, osteosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma and lipsarcoma.
As mentioned above, cancer diagnostics isn’t the only area of business in which ITUS operations. The company is also involved in an innovative solution to treat the ailment. The solution, known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, or CAR-T, therapy is a relatively new form of immunotherapy that has become a topic of interest among the medical community and the investing community alike.
Without getting too technical, CAR-T therapy uses T-cells, a key factor within your immune system to fight cancer. By re-programming T-cells to attack cancer cells that carry specific proteins, CAR-T therapy is a highly-targeted option in the fight against cancer.
At the moment, CAR-T has shown some serious promise, but only in a few types of cancer. These include liquid cancer types like lymphoma and blood cancers. That’s because these liquid tumors display ] a protein that is relatively easy to target by the re-programmed T-cells. However, solid tumors are a very different cancer.
However, ITUS is acting on newly discovered information that may allow the company to use CAR-T therapy to address solid tumors. Some forms of solid tumors are made of cancer cells that have an exclusive protein on the cell surface as well. ITUS believes that by programming T-cells to attack the cells carrying these specific proteins, it may be able to use CAR-T therapy to combat solid tumors.
If ITUS and its collaborators at the Moffitt Cancer Center are the first to show their CAR-T technology works on solid tumors, it could be worth billions, especially since other companies that have demonstrated efficacy in select tumor types have been recently acquired for billions.
The Catalyst Is Around The Corner
When it comes to the treatment of cancer, ITUS has a catalyst that’s just around the corner. In fact, ITUS is in the process of launching a CAR-T drug development program to fight against Ovarian Cancer. Late last year, the company announced that it has entered into an exclusive worldwide license agreement with The Wistar Institute for a CAR-T technology that’s aimed initially at treating ovarian cancer. Shortly thereafter, ITUS entered a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the Moffit Cancer Center to develop the therapy. Of course, over time the company plans on targeting other solid tumor cancers as well.
CAR-T Is Incredibly Valuable
At the moment, all eyes are on CAR-T treatments as scientists work to break the line between liquid and solid tumor treatment. In fact, recently, there have been two massive acquisitions surrounding CAR-T. In fact, Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) recently acquired Juno Therapeutics for $9 billion. Also, Kite Pharma, Inc, was recently acquired by Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) for $12 billion. Both of these acquisitions had to do with CAR-T technologies.
ITUS Is Trusted By Several Collaborators
As a validation of their efforts on both the diagnostic and the treatment arms of the company, ITUS is currently in various collaborations with some of the world’s most renowned leaders in oncology. Some of these names include The Wistar Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Network, Virtua, Moffitt Cancer Center, the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center, and Delaware Valley Urology.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that both, the liquid biopsy and the CAR-T spaces are getting quite a bit of spotlight. This is not only for their abilities in their respective spaces, but due to the investment interest that surrounds them. At the end of the day, through the decision to move forward with these types of technologies, ITUS has set a solid foundation for growth in two industries with massive untapped potential!
This article was originally published on CNA Finance with all relevant disclaimers.