It’s been clear for some time that a personalized approach to cancer treatment is key in overcoming the disease. Since certain types of cancer, like glioblastoma (brain tumors), have been found to be resistant to chemotherapy, new (and less toxic) approaches are desperately needed to combat the resistant cells. Stelvio is a company with a unique approach to identifying the resistance mechanisms of cancer cells, and overcoming them with targeted therapies for the individual patient. The company’s founder and CEO, Attila Hajdu, explains more:
When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?
AH: We decided to start Stelvio Oncology in May 2017. While we are a relatively new company, we have had a number of major accomplishments which include an invitation to join JLABS San Diego, which is Johnson & Johnson’s innovation centre, where we will be based starting on September 26, 2017. Being a JLABS company exposes us to the ecosystem of J&J’s innovation centre and potential collaborations with the incubator companies as well as J&J. We are also in the middle of an evaluation process with Sanofi to utilize our technology to identify novel targets and molecules in Huntington’s Disease, which opens the door to the formation of Stelvio Therapeutics. We’ll begin the evolution to this new name over the next few weeks.
What problem are you aiming to solve with Stelvio Oncology?
AH: The main problem in cancer remains resistance to chemotherapy based regimens which leads to loss of response to treatment and no viable options for patients afterwards. Not only is chemotherapy based treatment ineffective in cancers like glioblastoma, breast, and lung, but it is also highly toxic. So we are addressing the problem that there is no cure for cancer and ineffective/toxic treatments are still used which give incremental benefit.
The problem we are solving with our work in neurodegenerative diseases is current treatments are ineffective in Huntington’s Disease, which is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and dementia.
How does your technology work?
AH: Our technology works by labelling histones within the nucleus which gives each cell an epigenetic fingerprint akin to a bar code, and then we can visualize the changes small molecules or drugs have on the cells using live imaging. This is a paradigm shift in drug screening for disease because it represents a 100 fold improvement in the precision of high throughput screening of proprietary drug libraries.
How did you become interested in biotech?
AH: I became interested in biotech after spending 20 years in big pharma mainly with GSK. I had a strong drive to become a catalyst for change, to solve problems that have a positive impact on people, that could improve their lives for the better.
What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?
AH: There were many lessons learned at IndieBio. One main lesson is that clarity creates confidence which was Arvind’s saying over the course of the program. One of the biggest challenges for us has been to explain what we do in a simple manner so that investors could understand and more importantly, write us a check! We’ve learned to communicate more effectively with investors in a simple and meaningful way.
How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?
AH: Success for Stelvio would mean ripping cancer out of the pages of medical history books within our lifetime. The same applies to neurodegenerative diseases although this success may not happen within our lifetime!
What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?
AH: Key milestones are demonstrating that we are stopping tumor growth in vitro and in vivo, screening Johnson & Johnson’s proprietary libraries while housed within JLABS to discover hits which we could further develop into lead candidates, screening Sanofi’s proprietary drug libraries against Huntington’s Disease and potentially other targets such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease, and importantly, closing a seed capital raise of $4 million to fund these milestones.
See Stelvio pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.
Pictured above: Stelvio CEO Attila Hajdu (left) and CSO Alexey V. Terskikh.