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US-based Valar Labs cements $22M to advance AI-powered cancer diagnostics

Valar Labs founders
Image credit: Valar Labs

Valar Labs, a company developing AI-powered diagnostic tools for cancer treatment, has announced the successful closing of a $22 million Series A funding round. This investment, co-led by DCVC and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), aims to propel Valar Labs’ efforts in the field of precision oncology, particularly with their AI test, Vesta, for bladder cancer.

Also back in February, we had reported about Ezra that raised $21M to detect cancer in minutes. The startup was also backed by former chairman of NHS.

Valar Labs was founded with the mission of reducing uncertainty in cancer treatment decisions. Oncologists routinely face complex decisions regarding the most effective treatment paths for individual patients. Valar Labs aims to empower physicians with AI-powered diagnostics that can inform these critical choices.

The company views advancements in precision oncology as a series of “inflection points,” each introducing new data modalities to guide decision-making. Previous generations focused on DNA sequencing of tumours and then liquid biopsies. Valar Labs believes their approach represents the next step: digital and AI-driven precision oncology. They propose combining pathology data with AI to glean deeper insights into clinical outcomes and treatment response.

Vesta: A first-of-its-kind AI test for bladder cancer

Valar Labs has developed Vesta, the first commercially available AI-based test designed to predict a patient’s response to treatment for bladder cancer. The test analyses H&E stained tumour histology slides to provide prognostic information. Through research involving over 1,000 patients across four continents, Valar Labs has demonstrated that Vesta can identify patients likely to experience more aggressive disease progression with standard treatments, potentially benefiting from alternative interventions.

Broader applications and future vision

While Vesta focuses on bladder cancer, Valar Labs’ approach is applicable to other tumour types. They have published research demonstrating the generalizability of their technology to pancreatic cancer and presented findings alongside collaborators at oncology conferences.

The company recognizes that both therapeutic advancements and improved diagnostics are crucial in transforming cancer into a less lethal disease. While new treatment options may take time to reach patients, Valar Labs believes existing therapies can offer better outcomes when strategically directed. Their focus lies in aiding physicians in making informed decisions across the vast landscape of cancer treatment options for various types of cancer.

The $22 million Series A funding round reflects investor confidence in Valar Labs’ technology. James Hardiman, general partner at DCVC, sees Valar Labs as a leader in harnessing AI and data to augment medical professionals’ capabilities. Vineeta Agarwala, MD, PhD, general partner at a16z Bio + Health, highlights Valar Labs’ potential to transform cancer treatment decisions for a substantial patient population.

What do we think about the startup?

Valar Labs’ $22 million Series A funding and the development of Vesta, the first AI-based test for predicting treatment response in bladder cancer, signal a significant advancement in AI-powered diagnostics. The company’s focus on expanding its technology’s reach to other cancer types holds promise for the future of personalised cancer care. While further research is needed to assess the long-term impact of Valar Labs’ technology on clinical practices and patient outcomes, the company’s approach demonstrates the potential for AI to enhance decision-making in cancer treatment.

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