Avi Strauss ’20K, a recent graduate of the Biotechnology Management and Entrepreneurship program at the Katz School of Science and Health, has performed a detailed market analysis on a new drug therapy for colorectal cancer.
The analysis recommended that Sapience Therapeutics, a New York-based biotech company, develop a molecule called a novel beta-catenin antagonist for treatment of the cancer. Beta-catenin is part of the Wnt signaling pathway, which promotes tumor growth and suppresses the immune system.
In addition to colorectal cancer, Strauss reviewed four other types of cancer that have high mortality rates and resist conventional therapies: acute lymphocytic leukemia, breast cancer, melanoma and multiple myeloma.
He found that colorectal cancer patients would be a prime population for Sapience’s novel peptide because of the high incidence of a mutation in the Wnt signaling pathway that results in its overactivation and leads to the formation of cancer.
“Colorectal cancer presents the highest upside according to the revenue projection model,” said Strauss, who is a health care consultant for the Marwood Group, “and presents the largest potential available population among the five cancer types studied.”
Sapience’s therapeutic approach, according to Dr. Barry Kappel, founder, president, CEO and director, is to target protein-protein interactions (PPIs) that seem necessary to the survival of cancer or that inhibit the immune system’s response to cancerous tumors. The interactions targeted by Sapience are considered “undruggable” due to the intracellular location of the PPIs, making them difficult to treat with small-molecule drugs such as chemotherapies that are incapable of disrupting PPIs and biologic-based drugs like monoclonal antibodies that are too big to enter cells.
“Peptides combine the best properties of small and large molecules,” said Dr. Kappel, “and present an opportunity to disrupt intracellular PPIs and to reduce mortality in cancer patients and possibly in other diseases.”
Robert Friedman, an adjunct professor in the Katz biotechnology program and Strauss’s advisor, said that Strauss’s presentation demonstrates the strength of the “molecule-to-market nature” of the Katz School’s biotechnology program and its emphasis on both understanding the science and translating it into practical and actionable decisions.
“Avi’s understanding of the science, clinical development and the market were all critical to successfully completing the project,” he said. “The pièce de résistance of his elegant work is undoubtedly the market forecast model that the client will incorporate in its corporate planning process for years to come.”
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