MolecularHealth, Backed by SAP Founder, Debuts Software to Match Patients' Genomes with Best Drugs

3/7/12Follow @arleneweintraub

When executives at medical software developer MolecularHealth were working on a new product for oncologists, they consulted with a cancer center that was grappling with an emerging trend: About 100 patients a year were paying for their own genomes to be sequenced. Jeffrey Marrazzo, chief business officer of MolecularHealth, a Swiss-founded company that recently set up its commercial office in New York, won’t name the cancer center, but he recalls the conversation vividly. “These patients were walking into their oncologists, handing them disks containing their genomic data, and saying, ‘I don’t want you to treat me how you treat every other breast cancer or lung cancer patient—I want you to treat me based on what’s on this disk,’” Marrazzo, says. “I’m not going to tell you that tomorrow every patient is going to pay for their genome to be sequenced, but with price points falling, it opens up a new world in terms of patients willing to push the system.”

MolecularHealth has spent the last eight years developing software platforms that its founders hope will place the company at the leading edge of that movement towards personalized medicine. In January, the company—which is backed by Dietmar Hopp, former founder and CEO of software giant SAP—began marketing its first two products, both of which are designed to translate massive amounts of genomic data and scientific evidence into better treatment choices for patients. “Our idea is if we really want to improve therapies, we must understand the individual’s molecular setup and map that to what’s known about disease pathways,” says Friedrich von Bohlen, CEO and founder of MolecularHealth.

Towards that end, MolecularHealth is introducing what it calls a decision-support software platform for oncologists. Here’s how it works: A physician treating a patient who’s just been diagnosed with cancer can input everything that’s known about the case, from the exact tumor type, to the presence of disease-promoting proteins in the patient’s lab tests, to the patient’s entire genome, if he or she has it. If a patient has a specific genetic variant that may make him or her respond best to certain therapies, the software will pick up on that.

MolecularHealth’s program then combs the broader universe of medical literature on the particular cancer being treated, and delivers back to the oncologist a ranked list of all the treatment options. The suggestions aren’t limited to approved drugs; the software will also pull up information about clinical trials that the patient might enroll in, or even suggestions for drugs that aren’t FDA approved for that specific cancer, but that other oncologists are commonly using to treat it, Marrazzo says. “What the doctors get is cancer-specific prioritization,” he says. “The technology takes raw information and turns it into something that’s useable in a clinical context.”

MolecularHealth has been fine-tuning its decision-support software with the help of the prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. The hospital is using the platform in its newly formed Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy, which has a mission of incorporating genetic data from individual patients into its treatment plans. “Physicians who work in oncology are beginning to understand that the ability to pull data from multiple sources and build alternative treatments from that is the wave of the future,” says Dan Fontaine, senior vice president for business affairs at MD Anderson. “We’re all enthusiastic about the idea that the next great breakthrough will be driven by the capabilities of computational science.”

MolecularHealth founder von Bohlen and his startup team spent much of their first decade in stealth mode, working through a series of technological hurdles. One of the toughest challenges, he says, was inventing … Next Page »

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