Madison Cancer Research Society seeks to improve treatment | Local News


A cancer research company on Madison’s Far West Side, launched in “stealth mode” two years ago and led by a former Exact Sciences executive, announces the first results of its live tumor imaging technology that aims to help doctors better select cancer treatments for patients.

Using three-dimensional imaging licensed from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, based on work from the lab of UW-Madison Professor of Biomedical Engineering Kevin Eliceiri, Elephas Biosciences can analyze live tumor samples to see how well they respond to therapies, said CEO Maneesh Arora.


This could give doctors more information to choose treatments than the genomic profiles of tumor samples or “liquid biopsies” of blood increasingly used to diagnose and better treat cancer today, especially in the selection of new immunotherapies, Arora said. Exact Sciences and Fitchburg-based Promega are among the companies developing such genomic tests and liquid biopsies.

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Mike Szulczewski, vice president of technology at Elephas Biosciences, shows screen images of tumor fragments captured from a multiphoton microscope, left. Szulczewski founded Prairie Technologies in Middleton before selling it in 2013 to Bruker Corp., based near Boston.


“Current diagnostic methods don’t do a very good job of guiding immunotherapy,” Arora said. Doctors “are always in the position of having to put someone on therapeutic blind”.

Unlike traditional two-dimensional “tumor typing” of dead tumor slices on microscope slides, Elephas’ 3D multi-photon technology has the potential to analyze living tumor biopsies in their native structure shortly after they are removed from patients. , said Arora. Assessing live tumor interactions with surrounding T cells and responses to treatments could help doctors decide which drug is best before a patient starts taking it, he said.

“When you put this wealth of data together, you get a signature, you get insights that you can’t get otherwise,” Arora said.

In the company’s first public information release on Tuesday, Elephas said three of its research abstracts had been selected for presentation in April at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in New Orleans. .

Schultz and kidney tumor

Mikaela Schultz, associate scientist at Elephas Biosciences, treats a kidney tumor obtained from UW Hospital.


One of the studies shows fragment readouts from live tumors responding to two widely used immunotherapies. Another shows the ability to distinguish between living and dead cells, and tumor and normal cells. The third study demonstrates that “nanobodies” can be tagged to T cells to track their movement.

Larger studies involving more patient tumor samples are expected to begin this spring. Much of Eliceiri’s work has involved breast cancer, but Arora said the technology should apply to a wide range of solid tumors.

Exact sciences, UW researchers look for cancer in 'liquid biopsies'

Arora, who quietly launched Elephas in 2020, was chief operating officer at Madison-based Exact Sciences until 2018. At Exact Sciences, he oversaw the development of Cologuard, the colon cancer screening test based on the stool that spurred the company’s rapid growth to approximately 6,500 employees, including some 3,500 in the Madison area.

“There would be no Cologuard today without Maneesh,” Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy said in 2018 when Arora left the company to pursue other projects.

Tang with red gloves

Elephas Biosciences researcher Alvin Tang displays graphs showing the breakdown of T cells and other cell types in tumor samples.


Conroy and Arora worked together in Madison at Third Wave Technologies, which developed tests for cervical cancer, before being sold in 2008 to Hologic, based near Boston. In 2009, they moved the then fledgling exact sciences from the Boston area to Madison, with Arora working as chief financial officer before becoming chief operating officer in 2012.

Elephas, which has nearly 70 employees, is hiring more. It plans to nearly triple its footprint in Madison this summer, keeping lab space at 918 Deming Way and adding labs and offices with a seven-year lease at 1302 Deming Way.

With nearly $8 million in seed investments from Arora and others, the company raised $20 million in Series A funding last year. Northpond Ventures led the round with participation from Sands Capital and WARF Ventures.

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In September 2019, Arora became CEO of Farcast, formerly known as Mitra Biotech, a cancer diagnostics company in the Boston area. He said he realized after six months that the technology “was not replicable” and that he “learned a lot from that failure”.

Maneesh Arora

Maneesh Arora, CEO of Elephas Biosciences, was previously chief operating officer at Madison-based Exact Sciences.


After familiarizing himself with Eliceiri’s research, he launched Elephas. Seeing his father and two friends struggling with cancer treatments influenced his desire to improve the identification of the best treatments, he said.

As for the company name, Arora said he wanted to reflect a world without cancer and sought out animals that don’t contract the disease.

“The first was the naked mole-rat. That was not a good name,” he said. “The second was the elephant,” so he went with Elephas, for the elephant genus Indian.


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