University Oncology Spinoffs Nurtured by French Life Science Incubator Seeking Clinical & Commercial Success

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TrialSite Staff  June 3, 2021

A life science startup accelerator in France dedicated to oncology research was recently launched, supported by a European open innovation platform known as MATWIN. The new incubator known as OncoSTART consortium brings together 12 key national players in research and innovation collectively targeting cancer, pooling their specific expertise, know-how and networks. With an aim of developing high-value-added startups in the oncology sector, the network opens up international networks to help facilitate and drive research and commercial success. 

Cancer is still a major global health issue. More than 19M patients were diagnosed in 2020 with close to 10M deaths. The associated costs of the disease are significant in both individual and collective terms. By 2040, the WHO estimates that 30M patients will be diagnosed each year. In France, cancer is the third largest health expense and represents 10% of public health insurance expenditure (with an increase of 48% since 2004, mainly due to a rising incidence). 

The OncoSTART steering committee currently includes the following members:

  • Cancer research clusters (Canceropoles): CLARA (Lyon Auvergne-RhĂ´ne-Alpes), Sud (Provence Alpes CĂ´te d’Azur), Grand-Ouest (Brittany, Centre, Pays de la Loire) and Nord-Ouest (Normandy, Hauts de France)
  • The Carnot Institutes specifically targeting cancer: Curie Cancer (linked to Institut Curie), CALYM for lymphomas and OPALE for leukemia and related diseases
  • The Cancer Campus biocluster
  • The Gustave Roussy Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • The MATWIN innovation accelerator (the consortium’s coordinator)
  • LS LEAD training center (Life Science Leadership School)
  • The Unicancer hospital network

Capitalizing on Academic Research Spinoffs 

The Covid health crisis demonstrated that many biotechnology companies spun off from academic research have the ability to offer disruptive innovations (vaccines, tests, etc.). Oncology is a good example of this trend, with recent developments by early-stage businesses in the areas of immunotherapy, CAR-T cells, e-health, and artificial intelligence. Given that start-up creation is a key marker of the ecosystem’s capacity for innovation, the OncoSTART consortium has chosen to promote and support these ventures to accelerate and strengthen the development of innovations for the benefit of patients.

 Why France?

“France offers some real advantages when it comes to cancer research: excellent academic research, a burgeoning network and a high level of activity in innovation, all largely thanks to more than 20 years of substantial public sector support; though it is still difficult to convert these results into practical applications for patients,” said Lucia Robert, CEO of MATWIN. “OncoSTART provides an opportunity to build bridges between players, creating a more efficient oncology innovation ecosystem for everyone, starting with project owners and developers, and over time extending this to patients.”

 An Open Platform

OncoSTART is open to all types of project owners (postgraduates, early-career researchers, aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs). Its cross-functional approach provides access to a continuum of activities intended to raise awareness, deliver training, and accelerate entrepreneurial projects in the field. The scheme operates as a toolbox, enabling tailored responses that cater to the specific needs of each project owner. It also capitalizes on the link-up between a number of existing support programs.

“We need to support entrepreneurial culture. OncoSTART’s vision is to show that we will be there for anyone who takes up the challenge,” said Jean-Yves Blay, president of Unicancer. “Unicancer is proud to be part of this collective, coordinated by its MATWIN subsidiary. This will provide a boost for a sector where players share common values around innovation in oncology.”

About OncoSTART members

  • Over the last 12 years, MATWIN, a fully owned subsidiary of Unicancer, has run the only national accelerator program exclusively focusing on innovation in oncology. Open to European teams from academia and start-ups, MATWIN is based on a longstanding partnership with 13 international companies active in oncology and keen to identify early-stage, high-potential projects with therapeutic or diagnostic applications: Amgen, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Exact Sciences, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Nanostring Technologies, Novartis, Pfizer, Pierre Fabre, Roche and Sanofi. Since it was founded, MATWIN has connected with all the players in the ecosystem (technology transfer offices, incubators, clusters, etc.) to maximize the value of oncology innovation. Given its national positioning, responsibility for coordination of OncoSTART lies with MATWIN
  • Unicancer is the only French hospital network entirely devoted to fighting cancer. It groups together the 18 French Comprehensive Cancer Centers (FCCCs); all private, non-profit hospitals. Unicancer is also the leading academic promoter in Europe of oncology clinical trials
  • The cancer research clusters (Cancerpoles): Established in 2003 by the first French Cancer Plan, canceropoles enable, at a regional or inter-regional level, better coordination of skills and resources while removing the barriers between sectors and disciplines. They bring together the scientific, clinical and industrial communities and offer training, support and funding; for some canceropoles – up to proof-of-concept validation. The following cancer research clusters are currently involved in OncoSTART: CLARA (covering Lyon Auvergne-RhĂ´ne-Alpes), Sud (Provence Alpes CĂ´te d’Azur), Grand-Ouest (Brittany, Centre, Pays de la Loire) and Nord-Ouest (Normandy, Hauts de France)
  • Gustave Roussy: The leading Cancer Center in Europe, Gustave Roussy is a global center of expertise entirely dedicated to cancer patients. A leader in therapeutic innovations and major diagnostic advances, the institute welcomes nearly 50,000 patients each year and develops an integrated approach combining research, care and training. Expert in rare and complex tumors, Gustave Roussy treats patients of any age, with all types of cancer
  • The Curie Cancer, CALYM and OPALE Carnot Institutes: These three entities offer industry players the opportunity to collaborate on research, ranging from far-upstream cognitive research right downstream to clinical research and industrial/medical applications, either within an institution (Institut Curie for Curie Cancer) or in a particular field (lymphoma for CALYM, leukemia and related diseases for OPALE)
  • Cancer Campus: As part of its mission to raise awareness and expand business creation, in 2014 the Greater Paris Cancer Campus biocluster in Villejuif launched two national programs specifically to support oncology entrepreneurs. These programs, ‘OncoEntrepreneur’ and ‘OnconumĂŠrique’ [Oncodigital], provide more than 60 hours of tailor-made training and support for start-up projects in the areas of biotech, medtech, e-health and digital oncology
  • LS LEAD: Founded in 2016, LS LEAD (Life Science Leadership School) provides innovative certification training especially for professionals in the field of life sciences. The school offers over 40 training days delivered by more than 80 sector professionals, covering operational and management topics specific to life sciences. LS LEAD can also offer access to a network of experts and partners to support project development