The current standard of care for prostate cancer uses a one-size-fits-all approach, handling the cancer like a whole-gland disease even though prostate cancer is incredibly localized. That is the problem that Shyam Natarajan, co-founder and CEO of Avenda Health, wants to address.
His approach involves personalizing prostate cancer care with artificial intelligence. Last week, Avenda got a $10 million boost.
Culver City, California-based Avenda, founded in 2017 as a UCLA spinout, closed
One in 7 men are at risk for prostate cancer, up from 1 in 8 last year, Natarajan said. Despite the disease’s prevalence, urologists have seen no recent advancements in prostate cancer treatment, he said. The current standard of care for prostate cancer treatment includes surgery and radiation, and in some cases, simply monitoring the cancer via annual biopsies to ensure it doesn’t spread aggressively. All these treatments damage critical structures that control sexual and urinary function or require additional therapy within five years.
While diagnostic advancements have given urologists a way to locate prostate cancer, these clinicians still lack insight into the true extent of the disease, Natarajan claimed. He said Avenda’s mission is to personalize treatment to the patient and their specific case to preserve quality of life and prevent cancer recurrence.
“We want to create a clearer path to personalization and precision targeting in prostate cancer care, improving the overall control of the tumors and quality of life regardless of how they respond to treatment,” Natarajan said.
Avenda’s cloud-based platform, iQuest, uses a patient’s own diagnostic information, such as imaging or a precision biopsy, to define the extent of disease and create a cancer probability map with optimal treatment margins. The platform’s algorithms were trained on hundreds of thousands of diagnostic patient data points, including MRI data, pathology data and other clinical information, Natarajan said. He declared that Avenda performed multiple validations on a completely unique dataset that the algorithm had never seen before to account for any potential biases, and said that the company will update the algorithm at regular intervals to account for any changes observed in the patient population.
The company also offers a focal laser ablation system called FocalPoint, which is designed to treat localized prostate cancer in urology offices under local anesthesia instead of under an MRI. The Food and Drug Administration granted the system clearance for soft tissue ablation in 2020.
Earlier this month, Avenda received FDA investigational device exemption for the use of FocalPoint and iQuest together. Basically, the clearance allows Avenda to combine the two technologies in a clinical trial to demonstrate that in conjunction, they do a better job at treating prostate cancer than the standard of care.
“Urologists today have a number of different energy sources they can use within the prostate, but the challenge is in knowing who to treat, where to treat and how to identify success,” Natarajan said. “More broadly, the standard of care today involves MRI and biopsy to diagnose a patient with prostate cancer, which does not reveal tumor extent reliably alone.”
Natarajan said that Avenda’s ability to provide decision support as well as personalization in targeted therapy for prostate cancer alone makes it hyper-focused, differentiating it from other companies offering oncology AI software, such as Click Therapeutics and Enlitic.
Photo: The National Cancer Institute