After Dr. Daniel Aires saw his targeted chemotherapy treat a dog with cancer, he knew he had to find a way to bring the treatment to more patients, including people.
Aires, a dermatologist with The University of Kansas Health System and a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, launched his research spinoff, HylaPharm, in 2010, once he saw the potential for the treatment to help people.
“We saw this isn’t just a lab project,” he said. “This is treating wild cancers in pet dogs, saving lives. That’s what we got really excited about.”
Making the jump from university research to a small business can bring in capital needed to carry a treatment into clinical trials, but it’s no easy task to navigate the multiple regulatory and commercial hurdles to develop a drug.
“We said, let’s not just make it a grant proposal; let’s see if there’s a business opportunity,” Aires said. “To make that jump into humans, you have to jump out of your university project.”
The chemo drug is wrapped in a “burrito” of hyaluronan, a naturally occurring sugar that cancer cells will gobble up. It uses technology developed by Dr. Laird Forrest of KU’s School of Pharmacy to minimize damage from chemotherapy to healthy tissue.
Because universities don’t have money set aside for drug development, Aires came up with the concept of creating a spinoff to raise funding and advance the project. Aires’ multiple hats with KU Med and the health system helped him get started, but his past experience in business also proved useful.
Before med school, Aires worked for McKinsey and Co., a New York-based management consultant. Aires gained experience in business strategy before shifting his career.
“Someone in my family got very ill with what we thought was going to be a critical dermatologic problem. I quit my job, and I went into the lab,” he said. “I love what I do. In a funny way, the stuff I did beforehand is turning out to be useful.”
From his experience, every research-based startup needs two things: A product that really works and a lot of support.
“If you’re going to play in this particular space, it takes a village,” Aires said. “We’ve gotten a lot of help.”
Aires’ work as a dermatologist also affords him the time needed to launch a spinoff. In addition to having experience working with cancer patients, he also has a regular schedule that allows just enough spare time for the business.
“That really is part of it. I have the time to dedicate to this,” he said. “I wish everyone else had the time, but dermatology is the kind of lifestyle that allows you to do this.”
In the future, Aires hopes to launch additional treatments through HylaPharm’s pipeline. The company is working to develop a drug called HylaMune, another injectable chemotherapy that also exposes potential targets for cancer immunotherapy treatments.
“The thought is to turbocharge this by creating a vaccine of the cancer, to alert the immune system that this is bad news,” he said.
The company also is developing two additional immunotherapy-related treatments that Aires hopes to see in dogs in the next two to three months.
In the meantime, HylaPharm still is offering its injectable chemotherapy treatment for dogs at clinics throughout Kansas. The next step: raise funding for a national pivotal trial, which would provide the data needed for approval.
The goal for HylaPharm is to become an early-stage drug discovery company and license drugs to those with expertise.
“It’s not meant to become the next Eli Lilly,” Aires said. “It’s meant to become an incubator for lots of treatments.”
Original article can be found at https://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2017/11/22/entrepreneur-out-of-the-lab-and-into-the-market.html