Sostos Hits Milestones for Cancer Treatment AI Technology


Sostos Hits Milestones for Cancer Treatment AI Technology

Sostos Hits Milestones for Cancer Treatment AI Technology 2560 1440 I-Corps Hub: Interior Northeast

Sostos, an I-Corps alumni startup developing a cutting-edge AI technology for cancer treatment optimization, recently secured two SBIR Phase I grants — a $275K award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a $400K award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Founder Dr. Nancy Guo, a professor in West Virginia University’s School of Public Health and a member of the WVU Cancer Institute, and the Sostos team completed an I-Corps regional course in 2021 and the national I-Corps Teams program in 2022. Guo credited I-Corps with boosting both of the company’s applications for SBIR funding.

“We always start research because we think it’s going to make a big difference, because it’s going to solve a problem, because it’s going to bring about a lot of good things,” Guo said. “One important thing we learned from I-Corps is to validate the customers’ needs. We’re going to invest so much time, effort, money — how do you know it’s even useful, and how useful it is?”

Through the customer discovery process, the Sostos team conducted interviews with 141 potential customers and industry stakeholders, which helped the startup identify the problems their technology could solve for oncologists and, in turn, cancer patients.

Each of the two SBIR awards will support a different application for Sostos’ AI technology. The new awards join a $565K Partnerships for Innovation grant that Dr. Guo received through her university  last year following I-Corps.

The NSF award will fund the development of a web portal to help clinicians find repositioning drugs for improved patient care and outcomes. Guo explained that currently, it’s time-consuming and inconvenient for oncologists to browse scientific literature to find existing drugs that could be repositioned to treat their patients.

“A drug may be approved, for example, for treating leukemia or breast cancer, but evidence shows that this drug may be helpful for treating lung cancer patients as well,” she said. “It’s time to develop something convenient like a searchable database, showing all the evidence to provide it to oncologists so they can choose a particular drug to treat their patients.”

The NCI award is for another Sostos product, a seven-gene assay to predict the risk of a tumor recurrence and the benefit of chemotherapy in early-stage lung cancer patients.

“We use the AI technology to analyze the complete patient genome and then figure out which genes are important and can be used to improve diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment selection,” Guo said.

While completing an I-Corps course for this solution, Guo was encouraged to interview all kinds of stakeholders, including regulators. After reaching out to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for a pre-submission review, Sostos was invited for dual approval from the FDA and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), an honor that bolstered their SBIR proposal to the NCI.

“That’s also a great experience from I-Corps,” Guo said. “We included all this feedback in our SBIR application, not only the customer interviews, but also the feedback from the FDA. The reviewers were like, ‘Oh, they’re really advanced in the pathway.’ Not only do we have the research, but we also have a plan. We understand the customer segment, we understand the regulatory pathway, and we also even got favorable feedback from the FDA and CMS.”

All the funding momentum for her startup isn’t the only exciting news in Guo’s career — she recently accepted the position of SUNY Empire Innovation Professor at Binghamton University and will start there this summer.

“The emphasis is on innovation, entrepreneurship, accelerating the translation of research to commercialization, so it just felt like that aligned really well with my priority at this time,” Guo said.

Once Guo moves to Binghamton, she plans to complete another I-Corps course to explore different applications for Sostos’ technology even more deeply.

“The whole experience is just unbelievable — the people we met, the information, the teaching, but also the personal experience. Everything is so inspiring,” she said. “We learned so much just in the past several years.”