Artificial intelligence is helping the fight against cancer

Evaxion Biotech's machine learning technique is creating cancer immunotherapies that are personalised down to the genetic level


We are closer than ever before to understanding the human body on a genetic level. Billions of genetic sequences can be processed every day, transforming a biological challenge into a big data one. Evaxion Biotech is tackling that big data challenge to develop meaningful healthcare interventions. Its CEO and co-founder Niels Iversen Møller explains how the company’s machine learning technique can identify the differences between health cells and cancerous ones, and use those differences to create a vaccine. The technique can also apply to bacterial infections: identifying the Achilles heel components of a bacteria to help create specific vaccinations, to help reduce the superbug challenge created by broad-spectrum antibiotics.

European CEO: How are you analysing all of this genetic data?

Niels Iversen Møller: Well we’re using artificial intelligence and supercomputers to analyse the genomes of humans or bacteria. We have trained the artificial intelligence to identify components that are unique to cancer patients, and also the Achilles heel proteins of the pathogens that we’re analysing.

When we talk about cancer, there are certain components called epitopes that we identify by comparing the DNA from tumours to the DNA of healthy tissue. By looking at differences between cancer DNA and also healthy DNA, we can find the mutations that are critical. And also critical in terms of formulating into a vaccine.

When we talk about bacteria, we again analyse using our artificial intelligence. The DNA of those bacteria, finding the Achilles heel components really in the bacteria that we want to put into a vaccine to illicit a strong and protective immune response.

European CEO: So this is personalised healthcare right down to the genetic level?

Niels Iversen Møller: Yes it is. There’s a lot happening now in personalised cancer immunotherapy, as it’s called – we can actually on very specific patient level identify the components that we should put in to a cancer vaccine to make it highly effective against that certain cancer.

You can actually train the immune system of a cancer patient to look at cancers as being something foreign in the body. So we can use the information that we have from infectious diseases, in order for us to develop technologies and cancer vaccines.

European CEO: Antibiotic resistance is another huge challenge in healthcare today. This has applications there, as well?

Niels Iversen Møller: Absolutely. Antibiotic resistance is a big problem. In 2050, more people will die from infectious diseases by these so-called superbugs than are dying from cancer today. And even the healthy bacteria that we have in our gut or on our skin are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment.

So we can use our technology to identify the Achilles proteins of these bacteria. So we can develop vaccines targeting those. Potentially also antibodies, so we can treat these infections.

If you use vaccines or antibodies, rather than antibiotics, you also create less pressure on the bacteria to develop resistance.

European CEO: What does the future of vaccinations look like to you?

Niels Iversen Møller: In the future, vaccines will become super personalised. Meaning that both cancer vaccines and also vaccines against infectious diseases will be based on your DNA, and how your immune system will respond to a certain challenge to the body. So, we will understand your immune system, at a very very deep level, and how your own microbiome, that is training your immune system, how that influences your response to a certain threat. Could be a cancer; could be an infectious disease.

We’ll also be better at identifying the patients who will actually get a certain disease. Because we know that the microbiome they have has not been training, or has been training, the immune system to react to certain bacteria.

We’ll also see a mix of different vaccine technologies – and that’s already happening – to create the sort of, perfect solution for discovery and development of truly personalised vaccines.

European CEO: What’s your vision for the company?

Niels Iversen Møller: Evaxion Biotech is aspiring to become world leading immuno-informatics company, by which we can solve cancer and infectious diseases. The real differentiator for our company is the well-educated, very strong team, with in-depth understanding of bio-informatics and also immunology.

So next we’re taking personalised cancer vaccine treatment into the clinic. We plan to do that in 2018. We also plan to scale up the company, because we are a platform technology company, and we have a lot of opportunities. So, we need to build our organisation where we can capture every opportunity we have.

So, by taking the best people in the field, and bringing them together, we can patchwork technologies that solve key issues. And I think we are responsible for doing that, for the benefit of patients – and also for the health of humans in general.

European CEO: Niels, thank you very much.

Niels Iversen Møller: My pleasure.