Staff Writer

Columbus, Ohio-based Deep Lens Inc., which focuses on artificial intelligence (AI) to help in clinical trial recruitment, reported that it has closed a $14 million series A financing, led by Northpond Ventures. Also joining were existing investors Rev1 Ventures, Sierra Ventures and Tamarind-Hill Partners. News of the round comes three months after Deep Lens closed its venture capital-led seed equity round, bringing the total raised to $17.5 million.

The company has earmarked the financing for expanding its AI and platform product development activities and scale its service, sales, and marketing organizations to support current and anticipated demand and growth for its offering.

The company's technology is dubbed Virtual Imaging for Pathology Education and Research (VIPER), which originally was developed for research purposes in Columbus, Ohio, where it was the platform for global oncology studies, including The Cancer Genome Atlas Project, before being commercialized by Deep Lens. The company noted that it has extended VIPER to include AI, enhanced pathology workflow support and collaboration capabilities.

"With this additional capital, we will move to quickly leverage our successes in the pathology industry and apply a highly disruptive approach to patient identification in clinical trials, one of the most expensive and time intensive issues faced by the pharmaceutical industry," explained Simon Arkell, president and co-founder of Deep Lens.

Focus on pathology

"When you look at how the offering works, we are very focused on the pathology discipline," Dave Billiter, CEO and co-founder of Deep Lens, told BioWorld MedTech. "[W]e have . . . VIPER, [which] was built by pathologists for many years. And those functions, and that technology really enables pathologist to optimize their role both on the clinical side as well as on the research side. [T]he workflows that we produce within our VIPER platform enable them to do their job wherever they are located," irrespective of whether they are in their offices or on the road.

In terms of what is unique about the company's offering, Billiter said it helps identify patients for clinical trials at the point of diagnosis. "We have done that by leveraging the pathology community. [T]hey are the medical professionals who do the diagnosis for a disease like cancer." The information obtained is leveraged to build partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.

"If you look at this from a value-chain perspective, the pathology industry is highly fragmented. They are budget-strapped in many cases," Arkell told BioWorld MedTech. This technology can help patients receive the right treatment. "We're making VIPER . . . available free of charge to pathology labs at hospitals and even commercial labs around the world because the value is in the access to the information."

The company also is working to help the pharmaceutical industry, particularly as the clinical trials market is huge. "There are 14,000 oncology clinical trials going on at any one point in time, and you must use analytics . . . to optimize that. [C]urrently, there's a huge gap in the industry."

Pathway to diagnostics

Looking at the platform, along with the role of the pathologist, the company's AI method represents a pathway to move into diagnostics and evaluating mechanisms that can be used in diagnosing patients, added Billiter.

"Absolutely," replied Billiter when asked whether the company would extend its reach into other cancers. It currently has roughly 50 listed on its website. "These were primary disease types or tumor types that we've had a great opportunity to work with the world's best in pathology, as well as in translational research initiatives to take discoveries and take them into treatment."

The company has a number of partnerships, including one revealed in March with Worldwide Clinical Trials Inc., a global contract research organization. "We're selective with the partnerships," Arkell said. "We do have a few with some of the imaging companies." He did point out that the company is engaged in positive conversations at this point.

"We have customers more recently in New Zealand . . . we're doing work in Europe," Arkell responded when asked whether the company primarily was U.S.-focused, or if it had a global reach. The company also is looking to rollout in pathology labs in the Middle East and Africa, Asia and Australia.

Looking ahead, Billiter said the company will look to add features and enhancements to its platform. "We have a new release coming out . . . very shortly, and it's based upon feedback from current clients." He added that the releases would be pretty consistent, as the company receives feedback from its customers. In addition, the company will focus on using AI to help partners discover how to make current therapies better.

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