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Breaking through cancer's natural defences

MOMO Biotech wants to help develop more effective treatments

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The oft-cited statistic that around 50% of people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime is an incredible spur to do more to fight the disease.

For an intro to the space, I’d highly recommend Kara Swisher’s recent interview with Reed Jobs (son of Steve) who has set up a VC fund focused on cancer-related innovation.

Today we meet a founder of one of the latest UK startups to be focused on cancer. Scroll down to read all about MOMO Biotech.

But first:

  • Fintech startup Belong has raised a £2.95 million pre-seed round, which is being called “the largest pre-seed round raised by female founders in Europe”

– Martin

This issue of PreSeed Now is brought to you by EHE Ventures.

Known for backing high-growth tech, EHE just announced they're building a £15m AI tech fund, and have finalised their core Fund Advisory team. The fund itself seeks to support and accelerate the growth of AI technologies, empowering the brightest minds in tech at pre-seed, seed and Series A.

Learn more about their mission and the fund here

MOMO Biotech wants to help new treatments beat cancer’s natural defences

MOMO Biotech co-founders Elijah Mojares and Minerva Bosch Fortea

In summary:

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If you want to see one of the most exciting fields in tech at the moment, look to the number of talented entrepreneurs exploring new and more effective ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

For example, last year, we profiled GambitBio, which is working on a new way of testing for cancer. 

Today, let’s meet MOMO Biotech, which goes a step earlier to help improve the development of cancer treatments.

This London-based startup is developing a testing platform to assist biotech and pharmaceutical companies in developing better treatments based on immuno-oncology. 

Immuno-oncology is a fast-developing field that uses the body’s own immune system to recognise and fight cancer cells.

But as MOMO Biotech co-founder Elijah Mojares puts it, existing testing processes need an upgrade to make immunotherapies more effective.

And so the startup is working on a new model that takes into account the tissue that surrounds cancers and forms a defensive ‘shield’ around the tumour.

“We're recreating the surrounding tissue in cancer. And the reason why we're recreating that is because those surrounding tissues are what stops a lot of new therapies from being effective against a lot of solid cancers,” says Mojares.

How it works

The way the process will work is that MOMO Biotech will ship ‘cartridges’ to customers who are developing new cancer treatments. 

These cartridges are provide environments that allow treatments to be tested on cancer cells in a way that takes into account how the treatment navigates through the tumour’s ‘shield’ of defensive cells.

As the startup’s own website puts it: 

“We uncover ways we can equip immune cells to traverse through the tumour microenvironment. We can provide our immune cells a shield, armour, or a sword to overcome the treacherous tumour microenvironment and reach the tumour.”

The startup will also provide software to monitor and analyse treatments’ effectiveness.

But beyond this, Mojares believes MOMO Biotech can eventually partner with treatment development companies to help them better target cancer treatments to individual patients.

“Imagine you're a biotech company, you have 10 candidates, and then with our technology, we can tell you ‘this one of them works best for this type of patient’, but the other nine, you don't know what to do with them,” he explains.

“But with our internal development, we can then say ‘if we pair that approach with our own approach, our own asset, we can actually target a unique patient population. 

“Essentially what that means is that we'll have several core development pipelines with other biopharmaceutical companies and then help them target more unique types of cancer, because cancer for each person is very different. And so having a way to stratify them, and then also develop new approaches that are unique for each person is what we want to do.”

How MOMO Biotech illustrates its offering

The story so far

Usually, founders of early-stage biotech/techbio companies we cover come from an exclusively scientific background. 

But Mojares has an unusual combination of the expected academic pedigree (a PhD in bioengineering from Queen Mary University in London) and entrepreneurship. While at university in the Philippines, he co-founded a bike-sharing programme.

Meanwhile, his fellow co-founder at MOMO Biotech, Minerva Bosch Fortea has a background in molecular biosciences and experience in the kind of mimicry of biological microenvironments that underpins the new startup’s work.

Mojares’ connection to cancer studies goes back to his masters degree, where he studied pancreatic cancer, which is notorious for building cellular defences around itself that can hamper detection and treatment.

So far Mojares and Bosch Fortea have got to the point where they’re gearing up for a beta test of their product in Q3 this year. This will allow them to refine the product based on feedback from the kinds of companies they expect to become customers.

“What we have now is our proof of concept of different parts, and in the next few months, it's about putting all of them together, and then shipping that out,” says Mojares.

“We're not just another testing company; we’re not just another organ-on-a-chip company. What we're doing is assembling different parts that help you refine the funnel in drug development

“It's really about creating an accurate tumour microenvironment. And that's where I think we differentiate ourselves from all the other companies.”

And there’s more!

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