‘Ghost’ cell startup that targets deadliest cancers gets funding boost

aMoon, a health-tech fund, makes a $5 million investment in venture set up by Technion’s Marcelle Machluf to commercialize tumor-busting technology

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Prof. Marcelle Machluf at her lab in the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology (Courtesy)
Prof. Marcelle Machluf at her lab in the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology (Courtesy)

Israel’s aMoon fund, a health-tech and life sciences fund, said Monday it has made an $5 million investment in a new venture set up by Prof. Marcelle Machluf to develop her NanoGhost technology, which aims to shrink the deadliest forms of cancer by precisely targeting the tumors.

The $5 million is part of a funding round in which aMoon’s early stage Velocity fund took part, along with a private investor from the US, aMoon said in a statement.

The NanoGhost technology was developed by Machluf, one of the leading bioengineers in Israel and the faculty dean of Biotechnology & Food Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Machluf developed the technology in her lab at the Technion, and she has now set up a startup as a spin-off from the university to commercialize the technology.

In their work, Machluf and her team at the Technion used mesenchymal stem cells — cells, found in all humans, that play multiple roles in the body, differentiating into a variety of cell types. They are hypo-immunologic and thus don’t provoke an immune system reaction when transferred from one person to another.

Prof. Marcelle Machluf, right to left, Yonatan Malca, NanoGhosts co-founder & CEO, Dorit Sokolov, Managing Director at aMoon Velocity (Courtesy)

Research has found that these cells help cancerous cells hide from the immune system, allowing the cancers to thrive and grow to a size that makes it impossible for the immune system to later attack.

Machluf’s team took these cells and emptied them of their content — creating “ghost-like” cells —  and then reconstructing them into nano-vehicles that are filled with anti-cancer drugs. These are then injected into the bloodstream and released directly into the tumors.

Lab experiments have demonstrated that NanoGhosts may reduce tumor size in small lung carcinoma, prostate, and pancreatic cancer tumors, by as much as 85%, the statement said. The experiments were done on tumors in animals.

The NanoGhost technology has been patented in the US and Europe, with additional patents pending in India and China. In 2016, the technology was selected by Israel’s Ministry of Science & Technology as one of the 60 most important historical developments in Israel. The company will be led by co-founder & CEO Yonatan Malca, formerly CEO at a public medical company, with experience in building startups.

“After 10 years of funded research, this groundbreaking technology is ripe for commercialization. aMoon’s venture formation investment is not merely financial; we intend to accompany the founders through all stages of company building and market commercialization,” said Dorit Sokolov, managing director at aMoon Velocity.

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