Volastra’s Strong Year Continues with Microsoft Deal and Extended Seed Financing

Charles Hugh-Jones

CEO Charles Hugh-Jones (Volastra)

Oncology startup Volastra Therapeutics is having a busy morning. The New York-based company inked a deal with Microsoft to develop unique digital pathology tools for oncology and also announced its seed funding round was extended from $12 million to $44 million.

The additional funds will support the continued build-out of Volastra’s technology platform, which exploits unique insights into chromosomal instability (CIN) to rapidly identify and validate novel targets to block metastasis. Pfizer veteran Charles Hugh-Jones, chief executive officer of Volastra, said the financing places the company in a position of strength that will allow it to advance its “bold vision to change the treatment paradigm for patients with metastatic cancers.” 

Volastra noted that more than 350,000 people in the United States alone are diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Of those patients, less than one-third respond to targeted or immuno-therapies, which makes metastasis one of the most pressing unsolved challenges in cancer.

The company uses an extensive library of organoids developed from metastatic cancer samples to understand the spread of tumors and develop therapeutic strategies to target chromosomal instability during the process of metastasis. This platform enables Volastra to perform rigorous target validation, to advance first-in-class clinical candidates, and to identify biomarkers to stratify patients for clinical trials, according to the company.

The seed funding extension was supported by new investors Vida Ventures and Catalio Capital Management. They joined with other investors that include Polaris Partners, Droia Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, and Quark Venture.

“The support of our new and existing investors reflects the increasing interest around CIN as a core driver in cancer biology,” Hugh-Jones, who joined New York-based Volastra as CEO last year after serving as chief medical officer at Allergan, said in a statement.

CIN was identified by Volastra’s scientific founders as a key driver of metastatic cancer. The company is developing proprietary computational and experimental approaches to understand CIN biology and drive drug discovery. Among Volastra’s tools is a proprietary technology suite to bulk-measure and exploit vulnerabilities in chromosomally unstable cancer cells, according to the company. 

Since its launch last year, Volastra has not only been busy developing its technology, but also forging relationships with other companies that can help advance oncology research.

Last month, the company announced a partnership with Dewpoint Therapeutics to discover novel molecules capable of blocking immuno-suppressive signaling in CIN-high tumors. In CIN-high cells, chronic pro-inflammatory signaling can suppress the intrinsic immune response, promoting treatment resistance and progression and driving metastasis, the companies said in a joint statement. The Volastra-Dewpoint collaboration is focused on selectively blocking the formation of a condensate in which this signaling occurs.

This morning, the partnership with Microsoft was announced. Volastra will harness the big data capabilities of Microsoft and develop algorithms that identify markers correlating with tumor metastatic behaviors. Volastra said the collaboration will develop automated machine learning tools capable of rapidly and accurately integrating insights across multiple datasets, including pathology slides and three-dimensional tumor-derived organoids.

Desney Tan, Managing Director of Microsoft Health Futures said advanced computation offers “tremendous promise” in the fields of medical diagnostics and drug discovery. 

“The collaboration with Volastra will lead to potential advances in the development of therapies to prevent and treat cancer metastasis," said Tan. "We look forward to continued collaboration with Volastra to deliver solutions for the computational life sciences community.” 

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