What if instead of undergoing life-altering chemotherapy or surgery, a patient could take a daily pill to fight cancer? That’s the ultimate vision of DNALite, a new biotech company that wants to actually prevent instead of manage symptoms. Their technology aims to deliver genetic cargo to areas of the body that are hard to reach, giving them the properties they need to kill of the cancerous cells and empower healthy ones. The company’s co-founder Timothy Day explained more:
What problem are you aiming to solve with your company, DNALite?
TD: We are treating diseases for patients that currently have very few treatment options. We are a gene therapy company, and by delivering the correct genes to the necessary cells in the body, we are able to treat the cause of the disease—not just the symptoms. We are focused on tissues that are protected by mucus barriers, like the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and cervix. The mucus is a necessary protective barrier for these tissues, but it also makes drug delivery a challenge. We are able to overcome this challenge with our technology and are focused on first treating a genetic disease that leads to a 100% chance of colon cancer by age 40.
When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?
TD: We met as students in early 2016 at UC Berkeley. Mubhij had the idea of doing gene therapy for this particular form of colon cancer, and I was working a PhD thesis focused on overcoming physical barriers for gene delivery. We both share the core belief that a new age of medicine is emerging that we want to be part of, and if we have an idea that can help a large number of people we have an obligation to try out that idea. So, we started working on the company on nights, weekends, and in between classes, and haven’t looked back since.
How does your technology work?
TD: We both have virology backgrounds and were inspired by the properties that let viruses penetrate through mucus and deliver genetic cargo to cells. We translated these properties to a non-viral gene delivery system that allows for the delivery of genes to cells protected by mucus for the first time. For our first target indication, the gene that is delivered restores normal tumor suppressor function in cells. For the cells that are already cancerous in this disease, it leads to the cells being killed off or lost, and a regression of the tumors. For cells that are still healthy, it empowers them to suppress cancer mutations and prevents them from becoming cancerous in the future. The vision for this treatment is that instead of these patients undergoing life-altering major surgery and/or chemotherapy, they can just take a daily pill that restores the body’s normal ability to fight cancer.
How did you become interested in biotech?
TD: The appealing thing about biotech is that it is by necessity an applied science, so we are able to take the brilliant biology and chemistry research that has been performed to-date and channel it into something tangible that can change patients’ lives. We also get the privilege to work with top scientists, physicians, and business people to make brand new treatments that treat the cause of the disease and not the symptoms.
What was it like transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?
TD: When starting a new company each person has to wear many hats. Learning to balance all the necessary tasks simultaneously in addition to doing good science is a skillset that has to be learned. As scientists, we tend to carve systematic stories that are only read by a few people in the field, but as entrepreneurs we have realized the importance of selling the vision behind the science.
How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?
TD: Many patients with genetic diseases have zero therapeutic options and are either told by doctors that there is nothing that can be done for them or that they have to go through devastating medical procedures that only treat the symptoms of the disease or simply serve to control inflammation. We are actually targeting the cause of the disease and not just the symptoms. This provides medical a new option to patients that is safe, therapeutic and preventative.
What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?
We have demonstrated efficacy for our first indication in a rat model of the disease. This was one of the first gene therapy attempts for this disease. We are in the process of using that data to optimize our modular system to reach an efficacy endpoint that provides patients with the most meaningful clinical outcome.
See DNALIte pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.
Pictured above: DNALite co-founders Timothy Day (left) and Mubhij Ahmad.