Atturos: Better diagnostics through machine learning analytics

25 Jul 2022

From left: Robert Perryman and Prof Stephen Pennington. Image: Atturos

This UCD biotech spin-out is combining algorithms and the study of proteins to better detect disease biomarkers in blood samples.

“Our vision is to help patients and doctors with their decision-making,” said Robert Perryman, CEO of Atturos.

“From its start, Atturos has been listening to and working closely with patient representative groups, clinicians and industry to identify the unmet needs where our technology and products will make a significant difference to patient care.”

A spin-out of University College Dublin (UCD), Atturos combines data science and machine learning analytics with proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins, to deliver what Perryman calls “highly specific, personalised diagnostic information”.

Personalised medicine is poised to revolutionise healthcare, giving clinicians the ability to prescribe treatment tailored to the individual. Atturos is looking to support this revolution with its pipeline of advanced blood tests for a variety of conditions.

“The pipeline currently includes tests for psoriatic arthritis (RAPsA Dx), prostate cancer (OCPro Dx) and diabetic kidney disease (ProMarker D),” said Prof Stephen Pennington, founder of Atturos and its chief scientific officer.

‘We believe the time is right to build a company that combines the impressive capabilities of mass spectrometry and algorithm-based machine learning’
– ROBERT PERRYMAN

Atturos was founded on Pennington’s research in late 2016. He is a leading figure in proteomics both in Ireland and internationally and his team at UCD is furthering research into the use of protein biomarkers in clinical diagnostics.

CEO Perryman has a background in growing life sciences businesses and previously worked at Enterprise Ireland reviewing commercialisation proposals. He also happens to have a PhD in molecular biology.

“We believe the time is right to build a company that combines the impressive capabilities of mass spectrometry and algorithm-based machine learning,” Perryman told SiliconRepublic.com. “Five years from now, we want to have built on our existing very strong reputation and be one of the leading companies in this space.”

Perryman said that Atturos’ technology can provide “extremely high-quality data that will deliver high-quality diagnostic solutions”. How, exactly, is explained by Pennington.

“The Atturos platform exploits targeted mass-spectrometry-based measurements of blood proteins using highly specific and sensitive multiple reaction monitoring,” said Pennington. “Unlike existing molecular diagnostic methods, such as ELISAs [commonly used analytical biochemistry assays], the platform enables us to detect and quantify protein biomarkers with an impressive capability to accurately, rapidly and cost-effectively measure multiple proteins simultaneously.”

This means an enhanced capability to detect disease signatures in patient blood samples. For example, the Atturos test for psoriatic arthritis has been validated in a peer-reviewed study as capable of discriminating this form of arthritis from rheumatoid arthritis more than 90pc of the time.

And there’s a reason for targeting this condition. “Atturos has conducted extensive market research among doctors, patients and companies across Europe and the US. All highlighted the need to promote early identification of psoriatic arthritis,” said Pennington.

“With a lack of diagnostic products on the market, it can take up to eight years for patients to receive the correct diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis,” he added. “Currently, diagnosis is often only achieved at a time when the disease has progressed significantly and to a point where it is too late to prevent irreversible joint damage.”

‘We are working hard to develop talent from within’
– ROBERT PERRYMAN

Atturos’ now has dedicated laboratories and an office in UCD’s Conway Institute. According to Perryman, the past 12 months have been an exciting time for the start-up.

“The team has successfully delivered on several commercial projects with large pharmaceutical companies while managing restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“We have also been the lead partner in a €2.6m Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund project that is developing Persona, a patient-centric workflow with applications in remote patient sampling in our disease focus areas and beyond.”

Pennington and Perryman have been joined on the leadership team at Atturos by COO Ciarán Duffy, who also has experience both in diagnostics and pharma and Enterprise Ireland. “We have also added lab-based team members along with several impressive clinical and commercial advisers,” said Pennington.

This past year also saw Pennington appointed the co-lead of HIPPOCRATES, a €21m research project investigating early identification of psoriatic arthritis co-funded by the EU and industry.

This year, Perryman said, the company is hoping to raise capital to support further development of its lead products, with particular emphasis on RAPsA Dx.

“As Atturos grows we must add new team members with a range of skills – analytical scientists, data scientists, quality and regulatory specialists, and sales and marketing teams,” he said. “This is particularly challenging in the current environment.”

To overcome this hurdle, Atturos offers competitive packages to new hires including an employee stock ownership plan. “We are also working hard to develop talent from within,” said Perryman. “Investment in professional education and development is important for us.”

Perryman believes Ireland has the “experienced human capital” for a thriving life sciences start-up cluster, with many in the sector having worked in either large multinationals or start-ups. “There is a vast amount of expertise out there that can be applied to developing new companies,” he said.

Also supporting the life sciences ecosystem in Ireland is investment in research and research-led spin-outs. “Early-stage commercialisation grants from Enterprise Ireland give deep-technology projects a good start. Once companies are established, sources of funding include a very active angel investor network and specific VC funds aimed at bridging the early-stage funding,” said Perryman.

“It’s great to now see later-stage and larger funding rounds are available, and there is no shortage of both EU and US VC funds that have made investments in Irish companies – along with our Irish-based VCs of course. This is a testament to the quality of our companies as they can compete successfully for international investment,” he added.

Pennington agrees that the Irish start-up scene is “vibrant and active”. In the case of spin-outs like Atturos, university technology transfer offices are key.

“NovaUCD plays a critical role in developing and nurturing start-ups,” he said. “Their commitment to the success of university spin-out companies can’t be underestimated.”

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com