More than 17 teams participated in the accelerator, which ended in April.
The team that won the first prize was made up of neurology professor Geisel Arti Gaur, in the middle, and students of Guarini, Divya Ravi, on the left, and Jordan Isaacs, on the right. Source: Courtesy of Jordan Isaacs
The team that won the first prize was made up of neurology professor Geisel Arti Gaur, in the middle, and students of Guarini, Divya Ravi, on the left, and Jordan Isaacs, on the right.
Source: Courtesy of Jordan Isaacs
In late 2020, the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship partnered with the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to launch the Dartmouth Innovations Accelerator for Cancer, an initiative to reduce the time it takes to get drugs to market. anticancer therapies. Teams accepted into the accelerator attended a 10-week drug and medical device development course. After the course, each team developed a business case for their cancer-related innovation, and an external review committee decided which teams were ready to receive funding for their innovation.
In its first year, the Accelerator attracted 17 research teams consisting of 41 faculty and students from DHMC as well as the College, with strong representation from Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering and various undergraduate science departments. The team that won the first prize was led by Arti Gaur, professor of neurology at Geisel, and developed a new treatment for glioma, a type of brain cancer.
The teams’ innovations ranged from cancer therapeutics to diagnostics, and projects ranged from nascent ideas to advanced prototypes. Barry Schweitzer ’82, Senior Director of Business Development at the Dartmouth Technology Transfer Office, who helped organize the Accelerator, was impressed with the dedication of the teams.
“I was blown away by the level of interest and the work of the teams,” said Schweitzer.
Lidia Schoonenberg, head of the start-up support program at the Magnuson Center, who also helped organize the accelerator, said the main goal of the program was to make sure more of Dartmouth’s innovations reach patients. Another central feature of the program were the cash prizes awarded to the winning teams, which aimed to help move research projects from an early stage to commercialization.
According to Schweitzer, to help achieve these goals, all teams attended a ten-week course run by medical device companies Simbex and Caldera Medical on drug and medical technology development, which ran from January through March. . At the end of this course, the teams gave a pitch to an external review committee made up of biotechnology executives and venture capitalists, who then selected a group to receive the $ 300,000 prize for the development of the l company, one to receive the $ 100,000 Startup Project Award and one to receive the $ 50,000 Quinn Innovation Award. According to Schweitzer, the accelerator will reopen applications next fall and eventually the program could expand beyond cancer and other areas of entrepreneurship in Dartmouth.
The team that won the first prize, led by Gaur, developed a new small molecule therapy to treat high-grade glioma, a type of brain cancer. High-grade glioma is extremely dangerous, according to the team’s project summary, with a median survival of only 14 months and a five-year survival rate of less than 5%. Schoonenberg noted that Gaur’s team stood out for their “incredible proof of concept for innovation in glioma”.
Gaur said high-grade glioma grows in men about 1.6 times more than it grows in women, but this gap narrows after women reach menopause, indicating that female sex hormones like estrogen – which decreases in quantity after the onset of menopause – probably protects against this cancer. However, estrogen is quite toxic, so in order to harness the protective effects of estrogen while minimizing toxicity, Gaur and his team decided to target a specific hormone receptor for estrogen – the estrogen receptor β – which suppresses growth. tumor and is expressed in gliomas.
According to Gaur, the team she led encountered three main problems during the development of this therapy.
First, a high degree of molecular and cellular differences between tumors from different patients, Gaur said, made it difficult for the team to identify a common receptor for the treatment to target.
“It’s very difficult to target something if you don’t know what you are aiming for,” Gaur said.
Second, because the blood-brain barrier prevents most compounds from passing through, reaching brain cancer cells was a major obstacle. While developing a compound capable of passing through proved difficult, Gaur and his team eventually came up with a therapy that can enter the brain 85% of the time – a significant improvement over current therapies against glioma, some of which only enter the brain for about 20%. time.
Third, almost all chemotherapy drugs are very toxic. According to Gaur, nearly 50% of cancer patients die from these treatments, not the cancer itself. Cancer cells are difficult to cure without destroying healthy cells in the process.
“I can cure cancer using bleach,” Gaur said, adding that the hardest part is making sure the treatment doesn’t start killing healthy cells.
For Gaur, it is extremely important to ensure that this therapy actually reaches the patients. Gaur said his goal wasn’t to write another research article – it was to save patients’ lives.
“I’m not doing this science to get another article on ‘Nature’; I’m doing it so that a poor patient’s life can be saved, ”Gaur said. “Until we know exactly what a patient wants and start implementing it as soon as possible, science is useless.”
Gaur and his team’s graduate students, Divya Ravi GR’24 and Jordan Isaacs GR’24, explained that their team will use the Accelerator award to fund larger-scale studies involving a second animal species and bring them together. more. toxicology data. Their therapeutic compound has been studied in human patient samples and mouse models, but second-species studies will allow the team to test whether their compound is safe and effective in another type of animal. Isaacs explained that this data is needed for them to come together before submitting a request for an investigational new drug to the Food and Drug Administration.
“We joined the Accelerator in the hope of receiving funding to bring our new drug to clinical trials, because it’s a very expensive business,” Isaacs said.
All three team members said they have gained a lot of value from being part of the Innovations Accelerator.
“My experience has been fantastic,” Isaacs said. “I’m really interested in the entrepreneurial innovation space, so it was a great experience on that front to sort of see what it takes to bring an academic invention to commercialization.