5th December 2020




Meet The Married Couple Who Just Raised $10 Million To Improve Cancer Treatments For Dogs

Ben Lewis and Christina Lopes just finalized a series A for their company, One Health, which is working to improve medical treatments for dogs — in ways that could improve cancer care in humans as well.

Four years ago, veterinary oncologist Dr. Mona Rosenberg had a patient with metastatic thyroid cancer. For two years, the dog was treated the way dogs traditionally are—with chemotherapy. But with large thyroid cancers, chemotherapy isn’t always very effective. Even though this course was going well, the cancer spread to the dog’s lymph node and lungs. 

Often, this would be the end of the story. While the past few decades have seen a revolution in the way cancer is treated in humans, dogs are still treated with the same chemotherapies they were in the 20th century. Despite the fact that many of today’s modern cancer treatments were initially tested with dogs. 

Ben Lewis and Christina Lopes, the husband and wife team who’ve founded the San Francisco-based company One Health, want to change that. Its product, FidoCure, combines advances in genomics with those in A.I. to provide more personalized cancer treatments for dogs in conjunction with veterinarians and pharmacies, using insights gained from treating cancer in humans. The upshot is that as they do so, the data they gather can also be turned to the other side of the leash, providing insight in the treatment of human cancers as well. 

“Everything’s tested on the dog for the human R&D paradigm,” says Lopes, 45. “And it never comes back. So the dog remains the subject in this arc, and we’re like, ‘no, we’re going to change this.’”

On Thursday, the company announced that it has raised a $10 million series A, led by Polaris Partners and Borealis Ventures. Existing investors Y-Combinator, Tau Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and Lerer Hippeau also participated in the round, which brings the total amount of venture capital the company has raised to about $16 million. 

“We might examine a mutation and biomarker in a dog that’s in a different location than a human, but the data may still be relevant.”

Lopes and Lewis first met in 2012 in Brazil, Lopes’ native country. Lewis, 38, at the time had started a Sao Paulo-based company distributing animal health supplies in South America. Lopes was also in Sao Paulo looking at entrepreneurial opportunities when the two met at a conference. One thing they had bonded over was an interest in veterinary care and animal health. 

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, we have to fix this!’” Lopes recalls upon learning about what she calls the “dysfunctional space” of data collection in animal health. 

After being married in 2013 and having two children together, the couple founded One Health in San Francisco in 2016 and began work on its FidoCure product. It later became part of the Winter 2018 session of the YCombinator accelerator. It was during this founding and incubation period that the company developed its basic process. 

Here’s how it works: first, the company sequences the genes of a tumor cell from the dog. This helps highlight what mutation may be causing the cancer. That genomics data in turn enables FidoCure to provide a personalized medicine report to veterinarians, who can use it to guide treatment decisions. The report also recommends FDA-approved cancer drugs being used for humans, which can be applied to dogs without additional regulatory steps. The company also works with a compounding pharmacy to develop dosages for the drugs, that are more appropriate for canine patients (flavors are sometimes added as well – beef liver being a particular favorite).

Additionally, One Health takes the data it uses from patient outcomes and genomics investigations and applies those to human cancers. “We might examine a mutation and biomarker in a dog that’s in a different location than a human, but the data may still be relevant,” Lopes explains. 

In January 2019, the company began offering its product, with 70 dogs being first investigated. Since then, the company has worked with over 1,000 canine patients and over 300 veterinarians. Its results to date have seen positive outcomes for patients, which it has presented at scientific conferences. 

One of those positive results is Dr. Rosenberg’s thyroid cancer patient. After the dog’s cancer spread to the lymph node, it was surgically removed and Rosenberg worked with One Health to sequence the cancer’s genome. The results found there was an actionable target that could be treated with an existing drug. Treatment was applied and two years later the dog is alive and healthy. All of the doctors in Rosenberg’s veterinary oncology practice use the FidoCure product, she says.

“I remember my first conversation with [Lewis],” Rosenberg recalls. “And being just sort of giddy that, you know, finally somebody was getting it.”

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