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Exclusive: Two clinical trials startups seed $12M to speed research

Illustration of a pipette dropping droplets of coins into a test tube.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Iana Dimkova and Felix Baldauf-Lenschen both started companies to speed the process of bringing life-saving drugs to market.

Why it matters: Their respective clinical trial startups, Macro Trials and Altis Labs, raised a collective $12 million in seed funding, their CEOs tell Axios exclusively.

Details: Altis and Macro each raised $6 million.

  • Toronto-based Altis Labs' round was co-led by Benchstrength and Debiopharm Innovation Fund with participation from individual backers including former Verana Health CEO Doug Foster and OM1 CEO Richard Gliklich.
  • Los Angeles-based Macro Trials' round was led by MBX Capital with participation from Initiate Ventures, Healthy VC, Inflect Health and Village Global.

How they work: Both startups charge pharmaceutical companies to use their tech. Macro is focused on high-value therapeutics — typically biologics such as drugs for curing blindness — and Altis is focused on cancer.

  • Altis trains its deep learning models on a proprietary cancer imaging database that includes clinical context. The models are designed to help predict outcomes and quantify the effects of cancer treatment.
  • In addition to pharma companies, Macro partners with contract research organizations (CROs), health systems and providers. Macro's software lets them collect patient data before, during and after a trial, creating a long-term record of the experience for patients and research partners.

What's next: Altis is using fresh funds to hone its AI-powered imaging biomarker platform across solid tumor types and therapeutic areas.

  • Macro is putting the capital to use developing its infrastructure and expanding geographically.
  • Both CEOs declined to say when they expect to raise a Series A.

The big picture: Diversity in clinical trials is often a pain point, given the landscape is dominated by a few expensive and slow-moving studies run largely by elite academic medical centers.

  • This means the the drugs that are developed can fail because they weren't studied on diverse-enough populations.
  • The FDA in February laid out a roadmap requiring any parties seeking clinical trial approval to outline plans to include more people of color.
  • Diverse, representative trials are priority for Macro, Dimkova says. In one of the company's recent trials, 75%+ of participants were women (the U.S. average is 56%), and 46% identified as Latino (the U.S. average is 6%).

Meanwhile, Benchstrength managing partner John Monagle sees Altis' Toronto roots and relationship with Canadian health institutions as an asset.

  • "Canada is very diverse and it's a single-payer system, so you can get data that you can't in the U.S." he says.

What they’re saying: Macro is focused on helping to create more inclusive trials for patients and researchers, while Altis aims primarily to shore up its AI-powered oncology tools for research institutions. Investors see potential in both approaches.

  • "Our differentiator is having direct connectivity to the patient vs. being an aggregator of de-identified patient data," says Macro's Dimkova.
  • "We're inventing a new measure for the progression of disease," says Altis' Baldauf-Lenschen, "and we're providing a system for [pharma companies] to manage their own imaging data, which historically, CROs have done."

State of play: Clinical trial and AI-powered research startups are attracting VC capital on the heels of the FDA's recent action.

  • Power, a startup developing user-friendly search tools to help people more easily find open trials, last August collected $7 million in seed funds.
  • Topography Health, which provides community physicians with a plug-and-play research platform, last January landed $21.5 million in Series A capital.
  • PaigeAI, a developer of computational pathology tools for cancer detection and research, in 2021 raised $100 million in Series C funds.
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