Meta-Flux: Helping pharma treat lung cancer faster with AI

10 Jul 2023

From left: Sinah Behsangar, Lee Sherlock and Brendan Martin. Image: Meta-Flux

Lee Sherlock, Brendan Martin and Sinah Behsangar founded Meta-Flux in 2020 to help pharma companies detect potential adverse drug reactions early on.

It is now common knowledge that one in two people are likely to develop some form of cancer during their lifetime, and lung cancer is one of the most prevalent types of the disease.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, lung cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Ireland, with about 2,700 people diagnosed every year. And the journey to recovery can be long and hard – often facilitated through surgeries, radiotherapy or drug therapies, depending on the type and where it is found.

Lee Sherlock is a biochemist with a passion for metabolomics (the systematic study of small molecules, also known as metabolites, within cells, biofluids, tissues or organisms). He says that only around 5pc of all potential therapeutics developed will find success.

What’s more, about 80pc of the ones that are successful will experience delays at the R&D stage or during clinical trials. According to his estimate, drug discovery to market access could take up to 15 years and cost pharmaceutical companies more than $2bn.

“With this in mind, we have developed a series of data analytical solutions for pharmaceutical companies that can elevate analytical efforts significantly by delivering real-time data analysis and enhanced disease modelling,” Sherlock told

‘Thought experiment’ turned start-up

Together with fellow science enthusiasts Brendan Martin and Sinah Behsangar, Sherlock founded Meta-Flux in 2020 to help cancer-focused pharma companies detect potential adverse drug reactions early to allow for timely intervention and reduce developmental delays.

What started off initially as a “thought experiment” between Sherlock, who studied biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, and his mentor turned into a business idea and an Enterprise Ireland high-potential start-up that can save lives.

The co-founders met while they were still in college. Martin studied computer science at the National College of Ireland, while Behsangar studied natural science and data analytics at Trinity and the Dublin Business School respectively. Martin and Sherlock are also former employees of the Science Gallery.

“We found that the science gallery became a space to learn new science and question old dogmas, a trait we later found to be vital to the creation of Meta-Flux,” said Sherlock.

Meta-Flux’s AI-powered platform uses the latest technologies to make “difficult molecular data machine-learning ready” and help pharma companies uncover insights to make informed decisions faster.

“Our AI predicts outliers and ensures that the healthy and disease groups in your trial are accurate and responding normally, helping detection of adverse side effects,” Sherlock explained.

“The platform simplifies data analysis and makes it easy to access and analyse your results, helping you identify patterns and make informed decisions quickly and easily. This will ensure that therapeutics are on the market and available to those that need them the most.”

Eyes set on Europe, then US

Since its foundation, Meta-Flux has come a long way in developing its technology and gaining trust from partners. The self-funded start-up has secured €100,000 from Enterprise Ireland, which has helped it to invest in product development and expand its team.

Sherlock said the platform has demonstrated a diagnostic accuracy of 97pc through open-source data analysis from more than 300 patient cases. Recently, a further 120 lung cancer patients were examined by Meta-Flux, and findings will be published later this month in Frontiers of Medicine.

“As we navigate forward, Meta-Flux is keen on fostering collaborations with pharmaceutical companies and hospitals that function as clinical trial providers to close out our pilot,” he went on. “While our initial focus is on mainland Europe, we have our eyes set on the large US market as well.”

Now, the founders are hoping to kick things off with a seed round “within the coming year”, hoping to raise €1.5m from investors “with a strong understanding” of Meta-Flux’s target market and the sales cycles of pharmaceutical companies.

“In many ways, it has been difficult to be a start-up in a space dominated by massive players. You must always be innovating and maintain your unique niche to find an access point to the market,” Sherlock said. “We are still working on this, but I have no doubt that our time will come.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic