Venture Lab company aims to transform treatment of breast cancer
Cancer biologist found ‘inclusive and supportive environment’ for creating startup
Ask someone what life-changing scientific breakthrough they might want to be remembered for, and it’s a fair bet they’ll say “curing cancer.”
RNA Nanotherapeutics is bringing that answer a step closer, thanks to the research of Xiaoting Zhang, the John and Gladys Strauss Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and director of the Breast Cancer Research Program of the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Cancer Biology.
UC’s Venture Lab helped him launch a discovery that could transform the treatment of breast cancer.
Patented in 2021, Zhang’s novel therapy uses multifunctional RNA nanoparticles to target one of the villains of breast cancer, a protein called MED1 that is responsible for roughly half of all cases becoming resistant to current therapies. Those patients are forced to rely on highly toxic chemotherapy and radiation to fight the disease, which last year caused 40,000 deaths in the United States alone.
‘Anything we can do’
“It's one of those diseases that affects your mom, your grandmother, your wife, your daughter, and it's so prevalent that anything we can do to help those suffering is something I'm interested in,” said Joe Buse, a Venture Lab entrepreneur-in-residence who partnered with Zhang to move RNA Nanotherapeutics forward.
The Venture Lab, housed in UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub, supports innovators by providing the necessary business talent and seed funding to launch new companies. Teams with significant startup potential are eligible to apply for funding from the university and the state of Ohio.
In 2022, RNA Nanotherapeutics received a Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the National Cancer Institute, which Zhang said “will help us move further along in our commercial development and is a timely recognition of what we have done so far. The NCI really liked what we presented, the new technology, the science and the team behind it. It’s an important milestone.”
Zhang and the team have subsequently received a supplemental fund from the NCI and recently completed the prestigious Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program at the National Institutes of Health. They have now been further selected by the NIH and NCI as a showcase company to present at the Life Sciences Summit held in New York City next month to pitch and interact with VCs and investors to raise funds needed to move this technology into clinics.
Support for success
“It's a very inclusive and supportive environment,” Zhang said of the Venture Lab. “I learned a lot about business development, and it makes you feel comfortable and excited to launch a startup.”
Buse agreed: “For researchers to find and partner with appropriate business sources helps them get to their end game. We think this RNA nanotechnology is the next generation of new therapy.”
On the horizon
The new technology has proven effective with minimal side effects in multiple preclinical tests funded by Zhang’s partners.
Buse and Zhang's goal is to have a commercially available product in the next three to five years, and they said the technology will provide a platform approach to treat other cancers and diseases as well.
“Dr. Zhang has been enabling breast cancer research for more than 20 years,” Buse said. “The end game: We want to save lives.”
Featured image at top: RNA Nanotherapeutics President Xiaoting Zhang has developed an innovative, patented technology for treating breast cancer. Photo by Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand.
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