Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

Serial med tech entrepreneur Rock Mackie and CEO Stephen Towe close a $25 million global fundraise in their drive to help patients ‘look cancer in the face.’

In July, startup company Leo Cancer Care announced it had completed a $25.3 million Series B fundraising round through parent company Asto CT Inc. The fundraise drew international investors including WARF, Pureland Venture Capital, Yu Galaxy, Alumni Ventures, Junson Capital, Serra Ventures, CHC, Cosylab, Toret Devices and Radiation Business Solutions.

The fundraise empowers Leo to expand its team and continue development of its state-of-the-art upright Radiation Therapy paradigm, which the company believes can improve both the quality of and access to lifesaving treatments.

Leo spun out of the University of Sydney in 2014 to commercialize upright patient positioning technology designed to improve access and treatment outcomes. In 2019 it was acquired by Asto CT, a UW-Madison company advancing a standup equine imaging system in the veterinary space.

The companies had two assets in common: proprietary upright technology and co-founder Rock Mackie. Together, Leo is uniquely positioned to target the $10 billion radiotherapy market for cancer. This includes standard photon (X-ray) and more advanced particle therapy systems.

Radiation Therapy remains a pillar of cancer treatment. An estimated half of all cancer patients require such treatment but less than one third actually receive it. Cost, size and complexity are all headwinds to access.

For those fortunate enough to receive it, treatment in conventional devices can be intimidating. Seen through the eyes of a patient, conventional radiotherapy involves lying flat on a table as a heavy gantry turns overhead. Specialized shielding is required as radiation is delivered at different angles.

Rotating people, not multi-ton machines, is Leo’s elegant solution.

“By combining upright positioning with Rock [Mackie’s] upright imaging technology, Leo Cancer Care is able to provide a complete cancer care solution that simplifies workflow, reduces cost, and most importantly, improves patient outcomes,” says Greg Kennan, WARF Senior Director of Ventures and Accelerator.

The company’s line of upright, gantry-free systems can provide head to thigh coverage. They are made to be simpler to install and maintain, complete with a software package to boost usability and setup. Coupling CT capabilities with radiotherapy means a patient can be imaged and treated in the same room – increasing throughput.

“It is really rare with any innovation to be able to drive improvements in clinical efficacy at the same time as making such huge strides in improved health economics,” CEO Stephen Towe says. “I think that is what makes Leo Cancer Care so exciting.”

The potential clinical benefits of upright treatment are compelling – such as the reduction in breathing motion and better organ stability shown by a group at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The company, which installed its first unit under research contract in a center in Lyon, France, in 2020, continues to make the case. By turning the tables on cancer, Towe believes his startup is poised to “revolutionize” the space and become “the more human way to deliver Radiation Therapy.”

“We are building on research from some of the biggest cancer centers in the world which have shown that organs move less in the upright orientation – logic tells us that having the target move less makes it far easier to be accurate with radiation delivery,” Towe says. “Put that together with the millions of dollars we can save per machine and this really is a game changer in the Radiation Therapy space.”