InnoSIGN Aims to Increase Survival Rates for Cancer Patients Using PCR Testing

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About InnoSIGN

  • Founders: Paul van de Wiel and Sigi Neerken
  • Founded in: 2022
  • Employees: 14
  • Money raised: €9,200,000
  • Ultimate goal: to provide each cancer patient with personalized treatment for optimal results

Just eight months ago, Eindhoven-based InnoSIGN was created by several Philips biologists, data analysts and software developers who struck out on their own. With technology developed at the well-known electronics company, they are trying to bring as many cancer patients as possible an optimal treatment, one that could ultimately save lives. With its team of experienced specialists, the startup won a Gerard & Anton award.

If the founders are to be believed, “trust” is the key word. Trust the method, trust the future but above all: trust the team. “Our experience shows more and more that, first and foremost, it’s about the team. Investors want to see the people, the passion they exude and the mindset,” says co-founder Paul van de Wiel. Colleague and co-founder Sigi Neerken adds: “Our team has many years of experience. We have already developed our first product from A to Z. That gives an air of confidence.” In this episode of Start-up-of-the-day, the two founders tell more about their company.

The InnoSIGN team during the Gerard & Anton Awards 2022. On the right: founders Sigi Neerken and Paul van de Wiel. © InnoSIGN

First of all: what is your relationship with Philips?

Sigi: “We are a Philips spin-off, from where the entire team transferred to InnoSIGN. For 12 years, we developed a method at Philips. With InnoSIGN we are now taking the next step and bringing this technology even further to the market. Since last March we are an independent company”.

Paul: “I have a background as a cell biologist. At the time when Philips was still looking at how the company would shape up, there was quite a bit of freedom to tackle all sorts of new topics within the research center. Then I came to Philips to contribute to new developments with my biomedical knowledge, and more colleagues came with me. In recent years, Philips has become a software company and decided to stop incorporating activities related to biology. As a result, we were given the opportunity to establish a new company. Currently there is no active collaboration: we are doing it alone”.

What exactly does InnoSIGN do?

Sigi: “With the technology we have developed, we can look at tumors in a new way. It is often difficult to predict how a patient will respond to a drug. With our method, we analyze cancer cells and can better explain why they keep growing. Currently, this is very difficult, so the treatments do not always work completely. With our method, if we see that a cell receives a signal to continue dividing, we can identify which targeted therapy would be the most appropriate. This is how cancer is treated in a very specific way. The trick is being able to start doing that for every patient.”

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Paul: “Above all, we want to work towards personalized treatment for each cancer patient. For this we use tumor material extracted from the patient. In just a few hours, we can use this testing method to determine which drugs are likely to work so the doctor can choose the best treatment.”

What product resulted from your research method?

Sigi: “We offer PCR tests to doctors that can be analyzed by our software. The PCR method used for this is the same as for a corona test. Then the analysis is carried out in the same way as for corona. Our tests were developed by the team over the last few years and are now used in a large number of studies.”

Paul: “Our PCR tests allow us to measure different signaling pathways in cancer cells. Signaling pathways in cells are important for the regulation of processes. You can compare the routes to the switches in a fuse box. There are many fuses, but it is crucial to know which two or three are. The same goes for cancer cells: if a tumor is very aggressive, there can be multiple pathways in one cell. You need to know how those cells work to make sure that cell division has stopped for good. He can then prescribe medications that interrupt the pathways.”

How do you envision the future of InnoSIGN?

Sigi: “In 20 years, we want to look back and see that our method has really helped more cancer patients get the right treatment. We especially want to help difficult-to-treat patients, such as those who have already finished their treatment, to survive the disease.”

Paul: “For example, an 18-year-old boy recently received a new treatment based in part on our trial. The boy now seems cured after finishing treatment according to traditional methods. In theory, our method could work for all types of cancer and even other diseases, but its implementation is still far in the future. Indeed, we must make an important caveat: yes, there are many developments underway, but we must also be patient before the method can be widely applied. People need to realize that these are processes that could take more than a decade.”

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What are you currently working on within InnoSIGN?

Sigi: “Over the next two years, we need to show that our method really works in patients, and we need more clinical studies to back it up. After that, we hope to get permission to start using it in patient care. We already have several products on the market, but now they are only allowed for research purposes. We are working with cancer centers in Europe and America that provide tumor material for study. Then we analyze the results.”

Paul: “We are also making initial contacts with health insurance companies. If we adopt our concept on a large scale, it is important that our test is reimbursed in the future. In this way, our method will be accessible to clinicians and ultimately lead to better and less expensive treatment for cancer patients.”

Cancer is a disease that generally receives a lot of attention in the medical world. How was it to get funding?

Sigi: “I don’t think it’s easy for any new business to get enough funding right away. We are using the nine million euros that we have now to demonstrate the effectiveness of our method, so we are not there yet. Obtaining financing depends on a large number of factors. Many investors in Europe prefer not to finance anything until there is already a good product that works and can be sold immediately, but we also need money for the previous phase”.

Paul: “What I think works in our favor is that we also have investors from the United States. The European market seems a bit more conservative. Americans dare to take more risks: we were even able to find more investors there than we initially needed. Investors among themselves also inspire each other in a risk-taking mindset.”

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