Written by Andrew Seale

Cancer, the so-called “emperor of all maladies” has wreaked havoc on humans both physically and emotionally for millennia. But Toronto startup Proteocyte is looking to change that through imaging software and algorithms capable of predicting a patient’s progression to invasive cancer.

“It’s the only disease we call by a letter – the Big C – everybody wants answers… they want to know if they’re going to get sick,” says John Davis, CEO of Proteocyte, a company which has built a platform that identifies protein biomarkers, accurately predicting individuals progression to cancer, using software and clinical databases. “(It then) delivers an objective score that says this is your risk of developing cancer over the next five years.”

The company, which was founded in 2011 after eight years of research, has opted to tackle the oral cancer space first, launching Straticyte, a platform which “accurately predicts the progression of premalignant lesions to invasive oral cancer.”

“Until I got into this I didn’t know a whole lot about it – it’s a horrific disease, and over 70 per cent of oral cancers are not diagnosed until phase three or four,” says Davis. “We’re taking about catching it before it even gets to cancer.”

The company is offering the Straticyte lab diagnostic test on a complimentary basis until September as a means of boosting exposure surrounding the product in both Canada and the US.

John Davis - Proteocyte

Currently, the Proteocyte is based out of MaRS.

“We’re right on hospital row, we have access to the best physicians and scientists around,” says Davis. The company has tapped into support from the Ontario Centres of Excellence program, IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program), CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research), and the ISTP (International Science and Technology Partnerships Canada). “It helped us get started when we were younger before we were able to launch as a viable product and so everything just aligned, it made sense for us to call this home and to build it from here.”

Davis left Toronto between 1998 to 2008, but says over the past decade since he returned the city has evolved.

“Even just the culture and how it carries itself is a lot more confident…” he says. “The entrepreneurial market has grown over the last ten years considerably, there’s not only a lot more companies, there are a lot more investors and opportunities to get out and meet with investors and to socially network.”

It’s a network he taps into regularly.

“I can reach out to other CEOs or CFOs and ask them questions… everybody is willing to open up and share their experiences,” he says. “You don’t get into this business as a selfish individual, you get into this because you want to make a difference and you want to help – you know you can’t do it all on your own.”