Episode 17

HOW X-ZELL MADE 2020 work – and why the best is yet to come

For many of us, 2020 has been more disruptive, heartbreaking and disorienting than we could have imagined – both personally and professionally.

Marred with loss and uncertainty, political polarisation and social tension, it has challenged the very fabric of life as we know it – from the way we live, work and play to the way we learn and communicate. If there is a new normal, it is perpetual change.

As deep as the scars are that 2020 has left on our collective memory, however, it has also brought out the best in us. It taught us to be resilient and resourceful, agile and – above all – adaptable

The same is true for X-ZELL. 2020 may have caught us by surprise, but we adapted. In May – at the peak of the first Singaporean lockdown – X-ZELL’s leadership made the decision to temporarily relocate key personnel to Thailand and Europe in a move to retain as much organisational flexibility and agility as possible (more on the strategic decision-making process in Episode 15 of the X-ZELL blog).

The decision to break up a well-attuned team and relocate staff internationally without a predefined end point was not easy, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was the right one to make.

The energy it unleashed and the cohesion it inspired – despite the distance and sacrifice – translated into real, tangible progress across the organisation, from fundraising through to product development (more on X-ZELL’s Covid-19 response in Episode 16 of our blog).

More visibility

In 2020, X-ZELL was not only able to close an oversubscribed $4 million Seed+ financing round, but also won the prestigious MedTech Innovator APAC Competition – a highly regarded accelerator program that originated in Silicon Valley and has spawned some of the most exciting start-ups of our time. The APAC edition was supported by the Asia Pacific Medical Technology Association (APACMed).

In addition, X-ZELL was announced winner of Enterprise Singapore’s (ESG) Start-up SG award, comprising a SG$30,000 grant prize, and access to extensive resources and networks within Singapore’s start-up ecosystem.

X-ZELL was also invited to present at the world-renowned Hello Tomorrow Summit – slated to take place in Paris in March but moved online due to the Covid-19 pandemic – and was named second-most innovative health technology start-up in the world in a tournament Swiss-Singaporean analyst firm, Galen Growth. 

The annual competition is pitting the world’s 64 most promising digital health start-ups against each other in a ‘winner-takes-all’ format, with X-ZELL entering on a wild card and making it all the way to the final round. 

X-ZELL Founder & CEO, Dr Sebastian Bhakdi, also had the opportunity to speak at the joint virtual congress of the European Society of Pathology and the International Academy of Pathology – presenting a highly anticipated update on the characterisation of tumour-associated Circulating Endothelial Cells (tCEC)* –and deliver the keynote address at the 2020 Hello Tomorrow Japan Summit in April, which also took place online.

Dr Bhakdi also supported the Global Pharma Booster program, a digital acceleration initiative organised by French company, Digital Pharma Lab, and shared his market insight at the 2020 Galen Growth Health Tech Cohort Summit, an event dedicated to the 23 start-ups selected for Galen Growth’s inaugural HealthTech Cohort, an acceleration and networking initiative designed to champion healthcare innovation from across Asia.

More bandwidth

Instead of putting existing research on hold or pivoting to serve a yet-to-be-defined new normal, X-ZELL held on to the vision of contributing to a world with zero deaths to undetected cancer and invested heavily in additional R&D capacity, with the addition of Claire Fives as new Head of Clinical Development and the ongoing expansion of our reagent production team in Bangkok, Thailand.

Supporting X-ZELL’s clinical work, the ongoing development of a proprietary X-ZELL Artificial Intelligence (AI) took centre-stage in 2020. Since the first Circuit Breaker initiative brought Singapore to a grinding halt in April, the project has evolved from prototype stage into a multi-layered deep learning system capable of harnessing the full spectrum of convolutional neural network technology.

To support X-ZELL’s tireless Head of Software Development & IT, John Lea, we brought on additional resources during the pandemic and established a dedicated, cross-functional Science AI team at our Bangkok facility.

More data

On the research front, X-ZELL teamed up with two of Singapore’s leading hospitals and medical research centres – National University Hospital (NUH) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) – to stage a prospectively blinded validation study for our first early cancer detection test, X-ZELL Prostate™.

Phase I of the study is already underway and will lead to a rollout of the test in the ASEAN region as a Lab-Developed Test (LDT) in Q3’21, while Phase II will lead to CE-IVD certification of both hardware and application – allowing us to launch more broadly in Europe and the rest of the world.

Additional blood tests based on X-ZELL’s landmark tCEC technology are already under development, too, currently focusing on lung, liver and colon cancer, as well as leukaemia. If you would like to stay up-to-date on X-ZELL’s research pipeline, sign up to our electronic newsletter here.

More action

Commercially, 2020 has seen the European launch of the updated X-ZELL Cryoimmunostaining® Suite – the first standalone product spun off the company’s patented rare cell detection workflow.

The Research Use Only (RUO) system has already been adopted by some of Germany’s leading research centres and will be marketed to researchers across the rare cell detection spectrum.

The second standalone product spun off our platform technology is set to follow suit in January 2021. The patented hMX® Cell Separator is a powerful magnetic cell separation device designed to enable fast, reproducible and robust cell separation for a wide range of applications – including our own.

The first two units to come off the production line have already been reserved by two European research centres, with more in the pipeline. X-ZELL will officially present the new system to the world next month, lockdown restrictions pending.

More growth

Coinciding with the unveiling of the hMX® Cell Separator, X-ZELL’s first European office is slated to open in Germany in January 2021, too. The focus will be on engineering and product design, as well as business development and data compilation – with the aim of establishing the X-ZELL brand in Europe and laying a strong foundation for the rollout of our first liquid biopsy, X-ZELL Prostate™.

Also in January, X-ZELL will officially embark on the Road to SeriesA, a strategic initiative dedicated to expanding the company’s international footprint, advancing our rare cell detection technology, and bringing the first tCEC-based blood test to market in the APAC region and central Europe.

The initiative will officially commence upon publication of X-ZELL’s annual Strategy Outlook, which will be made available to investors in January, and culminate in the launch of X-ZELL’s Series A fundraising round in late 2021.

More reach

X-ZELL is now on YouTube, with a series of videos outlining our strategic vision and explaining our world-unique rare cell detection technology. Part of the channel is also the pitch video that led to X-ZELL winning the coveted MedTech Innovator APAC competition. Watch it here.

X-ZELL has also been featured extensively in industry and general media – both in Asia and in Europe. In June, for example, Galen Growth profiled X-ZELL Founder & CEO, Dr Sebastian Bhakdi, for its newly launched ‘Meet the CEO’ series, while Tech Collective Asia interviewed him in December, following the win of the MedTech Innovator APAC program. For a full overview, click here.

More momentum

Against all odds, 2020 proved to be X-ZELL’s best year yet with view to product development, clinical research and brand recognition. As a growth-stage start-up, momentum is the one commodity we thrive on most, and by taking decisive action fast, X-ZELL was able to maintain it even during a period of extreme uncertainty.

Being partial to execution is only the beginning, tough. What 2020 has proven is that building the X-ZELL organisation around robust systems and processes and, most importantly, shared values, has forged a culture of trust, collaboration and innovation.

Hardened in the fire of Covid-19, it will go on to build the backbone for X-ZELL’s ongoing expansion and the global rollout of tCEC-based cancer screening in a post-Covid world (re-read Episode 16 of the X-ZELL blog for more).

Because to us, the real work has also just begun.

*A summary will be made available in Q’21. Sign up to the X-ZELL eUpdate so you don’t miss anything.

Next-generation cytology

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