The former Chalmers doctoral student Francesco Gatto was taken with surprise by the announcement that he was awarded the innovation prize.
“I was pretty astonished when I received the call from Karin. I know that this award is bestowed to a single person every year and that makes me feel humble and grateful. Most of the work is still ahead of us, but this award encourages me and all of our team to carry on.”
Francesco Gatto was PhD student at the Department of Biology and Biotechnology at Chalmers between 2012 and 2015, where he was part of the Nielsen lab. In 2015 he started a project together with Professor Jens Nielsen. After the venture was incubated within Chalmers innovation systems, they founded the company Elypta in 2017.
“To be fair, it was Jens who pushed me to give entrepreneurship a try”, says Francesco Gatto, who now is Chief Scientific Officer at Elypta, responsible for the tasks of executing product development, clinical studies, and compliance to regulations.
Detection as well as follow-up
Francesco Gatto works with preventing cancer mortality by developing the technique of liquid biopsies from blood or urine for detection as well as follow-up, since the test findings also show how the patient responded to treatment. The technology is based on 19 biomarkers, which Francesco Gatto identified during his time as a doctoral student at Chalmers. The use of machine learning-based algorithms then helps to detect the presence of cancers from the biomarker measurements.
“A timely diagnosis of cancer is absolutely crucial in some cases to provide the most effective treatments to patients. Many times, we have ineffective ways to know if you are responding properly to a certain therapy, or if cancer has come back after curative surgery. At Elypta, we are developing a novel test to detect cancer in blood and urine samples by measuring this new class of biomarkers. We discovered these biomarkers thanks to our research at Chalmers in Jens Nielsen lab around how cancer regulates its metabolism.”
How can this be used in a practical manner?
“Our initial objective is to help patients with kidney cancer. Today, kidney cancer is diagnosed relatively early and patients are fit for surgery and often able to live a normal life. However, some 20% of them experiences recurrence of the cancer within 5 years. The earlier we detect the recurrence, the more options for curative therapy exist. The current follow-up plan consists solely of medical imaging scans every 6-12 months. We want to complement this with our blood/urine test every 3 months. If our test is positive, the patient should be scheduled for an earlier image scan than first planned, and hopefully a recurrence is detected on time”.
What is important to you in your scientific work?
Data talks – this is the number one take-away from science. Science also is the way we adopted for our business. We strive to take all our decisions in an analytical data-driven manner. Of course, this takes time, but it minimizes regret.
What lies ahead of you in the near future?
“To keep working. It is a long path – but I will not be happy until we can provably show that we helped at least 1 patient.”
Francesco Gatto is awarded Karin Markides Innovation Award at Chalmers PhD at May 18th.