Predicting Metastasis at MetaStat: Interview with CEO Dr. Oscar Bronsther
Metastasis of cancer cells from the primary tumor represents one of the most serious concerns for any cancer patient and can affect clinical decisions regarding treatment for the disease. The ability to predict the likelihood of metastasis is imperative, though existing solutions are limited in the scope of patients and types of cancer than can be screened. Changing this paradigm is MetaStat, a company developing a new way to predict the risk for tumor metastasis that could be used for any type of tumor cell and pave the way for clinicians to provide personalized cancer treatments based on the aggressiveness of the disease in each patient. We had a chance to speak with Dr. Oscar Bronsther, CEO of MetaStat, to learn more about the company’s breakthrough approach.
Michael Batista, Medgadget: What is your background and how did you become involved with MetaStat?
Dr. Oscar Bronsther: I have been an active surgeon for the majority of my career conducting liver transplants at some of the leading universities in the US for the last 30 years. During that time I was involved in conducting biotechnology due diligence for angel investors as well as investing in companies myself. Over four years ago I did the due diligence on MetaStat and felt the science behind the company represented the most important breakthrough in understanding cancer biology since 1980. I originally invested in the company alongside other angel investors but for the first time in my career, I also asked for an opportunity to get more involved. When the company went public in 2012, I was originally asked to be the Chairman of the Board while I continued my clinical work. However, in December 2012, deciding a firmer hand was needed in dealing with the universities from whom the IP had been licensed, the Board approached me to become the CEO. In accepting the position, I terminated my surgical practice, which for me was an easy decision since a platform that can address 80% of all solid tumors has the potential to impact tens of thousands of lives each year.
Medgadget: What motivates MetaStat?
Bronsther: At MetaStat we’re concerned with the treatment and prevention of metastatic diseases. The key scientific breakthrough was the discovery of a pathway by which solid tumor cells acquire the ability to metastasize or leave the primary tumor to infiltrate other parts of the body. The reason this is so important is that 90% of deaths from metastasizing cancer result not from the primary tumor but from the tumors that occur as a result of metastasis from the primary tumor. To be clear, only some tumors are capable of metastasizing. Take lung cancer, for example. If left untreated, only 35% of patients would develop metastatic disease. If you did not treat it, the tumor would grow and expand in the breast but in only about one-third of patients would the tumor cells spread through the blood stream to other parts of the body. Another example is prostate cancer. If left untreated, only 20% of men would ever develop metastatic disease.
Let’s take a look at this from another point of view with breast cancer. Only 35% of women with breast cancer would develop metastatic disease if left untreated. However, today, 80-85% of women with newly diagnosed breast cancer are treated with chemotherapy up front in an attempt to prevent the development of metastatic disease. 100% of women who get chemotherapy for breast cancer will get sick in some fashion and 1% will die from the treatment. It takes six months to deliver the complete course of chemotherapy with an average cost of $75,000 per woman. The point is that we are massively over treating patients unnecessarily because we previously did not have a good way to understand if a patient was going to have an aggressive versus an indolent tumor. Ideally, we could identify those who only need the tumor removed versus those who are at risk for metastatic cancer and require chemotherapy. This challenge is important to patients, physicians, and the healthcare system that bears the cost burden for these treatments.
Using a different product, not one from MetaStat, in one European study, roughly 200 women were down staged from a high to low risk for metastatic disease. Low risk here means they have less than a 10% chance of developing metastatic disease from their cancer over 10 years. 85% of those who were recategorized as low-risk elected not to take chemotherapy while 15% took the treatment anyway. Clearly, this kind of insight results in changes to how patients make medical decision.