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    Liquid biopsies may revolutionize cancer treatment


    Back in ancient Greece, medical whiz kids like Hippocrates and Alcmaeon of Croton were hot on the idea that blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile — known as the body’s “humors” — held the keys to the kingdom of good health and a long life.

    While humorism theory has since fallen out of medical fashion, one of its core ideas has remained steadfast: There’s a lot to be gleaned from a closer look at the juices inside of our bodies.

    Those juices have so much potential, in fact, that in recent months medtech experts around the world and specifically in Israel have developed a pioneering technique —“liquid biopsy” — that makes the examination of the body’s fluids even more useful.

    Cool, gross, what is it?

    In short, liquid biopsy is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure that involves analyzing substances such as blood, urine or cerebrospinal fluid to detect and monitor various medical conditions, notably cancer.

    Unlike traditional biopsies that involve surgical tissue removal, liquid biopsies offer a less invasive alternative, reducing patient discomfort and eliminating associated risks.

    On top of that, liquid biopsy is more suited for repeated sampling over time, which makes it particularly valuable in situations like monitoring cancer progression, assessing treatment effectiveness and detecting early signs of recurrence.

    Liquid biopsies in cancer diagnostics primarily focus on detecting specific biomarkers that make their way into the body’s fluids from tumors. 

    Because fluids flow throughout the entire body, they cover a lot more ground and can pick up more of these biomarkers than solid, static tumors can — which means there’s potentially a lot more insights can be gleaned about the cancer’s progression and treatment options from inspecting a liquid biopsy.

    If it’s so useful, why is it only emerging now? The answer will (probably not) shock you: artificial intelligence.

    While the idea of liquid biopsy has been kicking around for a while and has been used in some applications over the past few years, the development of AI and machine learning tools has been crucial in advancing liquid biopsy, because analyzing the relevant fluids is complex and requires sophisticated mathematical tools to identify meaningful patterns.

    AI and machine learning are essential in this context because they can handle vast amounts of data, incorporating clinical characteristics, imaging and lab results to detect signals that predict patient responses to treatments.

    Israel’s interest in liquid biopsy

    In Israel, this new medical technique has witnessed a major surge in adoption and innovation. The industry has grown so much that last month’s BioMed conference in Tel Aviv featured a dedicated track highlighting advancements in the field.

    Dr. Ofer Sharon, the physician who heads OncoHost — a precision oncology startup that’s further developing liquid biopsy technology — was involved in moderating the Liquid Biopsy and Diagnostics session at BioMed. 

    Can liquid biopsy revolutionize cancer treatment?
    Dr. Ofer Sharon, CEO of OncoHost. Photo courtesy of OncoHost

    Sharon sat for an interview with ISRAEL21c to explain the technique’s growing potential in Israel.

    “Traditionally, Israel was always very strong with medical devices, and the reason is very simple: relatively short time of development, very clear pathway to approval and then when it came to commercialization, you usually work with a partner in your target country,” he explains.

    The rise of digital healthcare and AI-based tools has naturally extended Israel’s expertise in medical devices into precision medicine.

    “The industry is now not only focused on medical devices, but is also starting to look at the next generation of medical devices, and that is machine learning or AI based medical tools. I think it makes perfect sense if you look at the industry, and this is why you see so many of these companies coming out of Israel,” says Sharon.

    He foresees Israeli companies maturing by understanding clinical utility and market needs, ensuring that technological advancements translate into practical, beneficial clinical applications.

    Founded in 2018, OncoHost has 50 employees split between Israel and North Carolina, with plans to expand into Europe.

    Tailored cancer treatment

    According to Sharon, liquid biopsy and advanced AI tools are poised to provide a huge shift in cancer treatment’s traditional, organ-specific approaches.

    “In oncology, we are used to thinking about tumors in relation to organs: lung cancer, colon cancer, brain cancer, skin cancer,” he explains. “Personalized medicine based on liquid biopsy takes a different approach.”

    Liquid biopsy enables thinking beyond the location of a tumor. Photo by Anna Shvets/Pexels
    Liquid biopsy enables thinking beyond the location of a tumor. Photo by Anna Shvets/Pexels

    He advocates for a patient-centered perspective where treatments are tailored to individual biological profiles rather than just the location of the tumor — and liquid biopsy is specially suited to enable that.

    The economic aspects of healthcare are another driving force behind the need to evolve cancer treatment. Sharon notes that the sustainability of healthcare systems is under pressure due to the high costs of cancer treatments.

    “Everybody wants to put their hands on the tumor tissue in order to run tests; in order to understand the pathology,” he says. “This is a very expensive resource, it’s not always accessible and it doesn’t give us the full story.”

    Precision medicine, supported by liquid biopsy, potentially reduces costs through more targeted and effective treatments.

    The buck doesn’t stop at cancer

    As Sharon makes abundantly clear, liquid biopsy has the potential to revolutionize oncology — but its potential doesn’t end at dealing with cancer.

    Liquid biopsies hold broad applications across several medical fields, like prenatal screening, infectious disease management and cardiovascular conditions.

    In Israel, companies like MetaSight and Senseera are developing screening technology that can detect a wide variety of diseases from a single blood test. Nevia Bio’s work in using liquid biopsy on vaginal fluid for early detection of diseases is an even more specific utility.

    As the industry surrounding this new innovation continues to grow, one has to wonder if other ancient Greek innovations like humorism hold potential for future technological revolutions. Calling all fem-tech startups: have you heard about Hippocrates’ “wandering womb” theory?



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