Two Duke professors raise $70 million in funds to research experimental cancer treatment technology with Xilis

Two Duke professors recently raised $70 million from investors for a cancer-treatment startup called Xilis. The investment will fund the development of experimental cancer treatment technology. 

Xiling Shen, Hawkins Family associate professor of biomedical engineering, and David Hsu, William Dalton Family assistant professor of cancer genomics, have worked together since 2015 to combine their career interests to create technology that could improve the care of cancer patients.

One product of this collaboration is the MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology, which takes tissue samples from patients and rapidly replicates the cancer tumors. The rapid generation through MOS allows for the development of a diagnostic tool that can be used to guide cancer patient care.

The initial investment for MOS was granted in November 2019. Shen and Hsu then spent the next 18 months developing the MOS technology.

“Trained as an electrical engineer, I realized that it is important to scale existing patient-derived cancer models to make them smaller, faster and cheaper for clinical use,” Shen wrote.  “My lab developed the first engineering prototype in collaboration with [Hsu] and [Hans Clevers, principal investigator at the Hubrecht Institute], who developed the MOS technology.”

Their discussions with Mubadala Capital’s Ventures, a venture capital company in San Francisco, about their MOS technology progressed after their initial proof of concept precision medicine trial at Duke showed the “feasibility of generating MOS from a patient biopsy and performing a drug screen in under 14 days to guide patient care,” according to Hsu.

“Ultimately, we felt it was the right time to raise additional funds to further refine and validate our MOS technology and, led by Mubadala, we completed our Series A raise in July 2021,” Hsu wrote.

Xilis has an office in Durham and is looking to expand to Europe. They have also opened an office in Silicon Valley to work with biotechnology partners. Xilis’s current collaborations include other academic centers in the United States and major pharmaceutical companies.

Hsu wrote that Xilis’s MOS technology has received feedback that it has significantly improved the capabilities of regular patient derived tissue constructs in terms of speed, diversity of applications, efficiency and cost.

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