- Romanian big data/medtech startup Oncochain became part of the Growth Romania – Support for Startups program
- This includes a EUR 195K grant from Innovation Norway
- The startup’s flagship product, OncoAbstrakt, employs OCR and NLP to make large amounts of oncology data available for research
- The team already works on the product’s further development and refinement as part of the grant program
Onchochain, the Timișoara-born oncology data management platform, has obtained a grant of EUR 195K from Innovation Norway. The startup’s winning project is called ‘Oncochain – Innovative data management solution enhancing the future personalized cancer care’ and began the implementation in February 2023. The project is co-financed within the SME Growth Romania – Support for Startups program.
The Need for Digital Transformation in Oncology Data
The startup was founded in 2019 and went through several pivots before getting to where it stands today. During our medical practice, when attempting to perform research based on fragmented data, Madalin and Roxana Margan stumbled upon the utter lack of medical data infrastructure. Treating patients with gynecological cancers, they discovered a big gap not only in the patient’s journey but also in the digital tools doctors could use in the treatment process.
Ms Margan lists the following discoveries they made both as clinicians and as researchers were:
- Large amounts of data were still paper-based, requiring a significant amount of curation effort to reach fit-for-analysis status.
- Hospitals didn’t know how or didn’t have the time to build their own RWD (real-world data) infrastructure, leaving valuable insights in paper dossiers or disorganized Excel sheets.
- Patient access to innovative therapies was severely delayed due to lengthy and expensive drug development processes that could be accelerated by RWD.
They decided it was up to them to employ the technological advances to tackle these challenges and make a positive impact on patients’ lives.
‘In Oncochain, I saw a very committed and experienced team attacking a vast vertical with lots of disruption opportunities and huge potential gains in case of success. Because both founders knew all the pain points and the weak spots of the medical system, I was quickly convinced they were able to take a good shot at reforming an important part of it – real-world medical data management – and building a strong company while doing so,’ Oncochain’s angel investor Liviu Munteanu tells ITKeyMedia.
‘The two founders had been working on the startup while holding down full-time jobs in healthcare. They have both the knowledge of the market and the passion for the problem. The problem itself is huge, and thus the market potential is quite large,’ T.A.N.’s co-founder Emmett King agrees.
Further Perspectives and Pivots
Originally starting Oncochain as a data management solution specifically designed for oncology clinics, the founders soon realized that the problem of data fragmentation impacts all medical specializations. The need for further digital transformation in the hospital ecosystem was apparent. This led to several pivots and the development of an entire portfolio of products.
Growceanu Angel Investment became involved with Oncochain early on, but in spite of how the company pivoted a few times around the same basic idea, the investors chose not to pass on the opportunity to support the startup. ‘This is a local founding team of medical doctors who have decided to upend the way oncological recordkeeping happens across the region, leading to better access to clinical trials: high-impact, life-saving stuff,’ Growceanu’s co-founder Ciprian Man states.
The Original Product under the Original Brand Name
The original tool for facilitating the collection of real-world data and accelerating cancer research has adopted the brand identity of OncoAbstrakt. It extracts and standardizes important information from medical records of cancer patients, which can then be primarily used for research, and less for quality improvement, and clinical decision-making. OncoAbstrakt includes features for identifying and extracting relevant data points from different sections of the medical record, such as patient demographics, diagnosis, type of treatment, response to treatment, laboratory results, and imaging results. The tool incorporates standardized terminologies and coding systems to ensure consistency and accuracy of the extracted data, such as LOINC, SNOMED CT, and NCI Thesaurus.
The product was started in Romanian because the founders had access to an extensive network of local physicians and hospitals, but the solution is available in English. Ms Margan insists that it can easily be localized in any other language in under a month.
With the new grant at hand, Oncochain will continue to develop new medical solutions in addition to the proprietary OCR and NLP solutions. Namely, it will accelerate the development of the software solution by integrating some state-of-the-art technologies:
- data platform from the current clinical practice (real-world data) of oncology with new machine learning (ML) algorithms;
- optical character recognition (OCR) software solutions for data extraction from printed medical documents;
- natural language processing (NLP) software solutions dedicated to the Romanian language.
‘We have already begun laying the groundwork for developing several innovative solutions for digitalization. Our team of experts is currently hard at work, integrating various technologies, conducting market research, and testing different strategies to ensure we deliver the best possible results. We are also exploring niche research topics that could greatly benefit from our efforts and technology. As an example, endometriosis is highly under-researched and we are aiming to create a custom data model to address this specifically,’ Ms Margan shares.
Oncochain’s product has already contributed greatly to the assembly of the digital infrastructure for supporting medical research at the proper level. The startup’s work within the new grant will further facilitate the retrospective and prospective clinical studies based on a large database in accordance with the up-to-date international classifications.
Kostiantyn is a freelance writer from Crimea but based in Lviv. He loves writing about IT and high tech because those topics are always upbeat and he’s an inherent optimist!