"We do not want to be a clinical phase company at this stage of the game. We are happy to have partnerships at the IND level and let the clinical stage companies then drive it through the clinic. We think this is the best way to target pathways that might not be on the radar of big pharma and we can de-risk them by scientific review in the SBIR program."
How has the progression been from virtual company you founded to where you are today?
It has been a great journey. We decided to start by repurposing a drug that had already been in a clinic. We then transitioned to figure out how to make our own drugs. From 2008 to today, we have built a robust pipeline and made our first deal with our first compound – a partnering deal with Exelixis. We developed a Wnt pathway inhibitor from scratch and since the development of the molecule, we have been working to bring it up through the ranks. We received the bulk of our funding from the SBIR program. As we are building our company through the pipeline and submitting grants, they are getting vetted by scientists and the NCI is providing the funding for it, which is important because it allows us to target non traditional pathways. Over the years, we have developed a compound called SST215; we published a paper showing that it had better efficacy and less toxicity than the best attempt to date for a Wnt inhibitor.
What medical need are you addressing with your Notch and Wnt pathway?
Oncology is the biggest target for us. We do not focus specifically on any cancer type, because the targets we are going after are fundamental for the cancer stem cell populations. What you can find is that Notch and Wnt are re-activated in most cancers. When we get something to clinical stage, we want to evaluate that inhibitor in any cancer that will benefit from it.
In terms of advancing the development to the clinical stage, what is your method?
For each one of our assets, our business model is that we do the discovery, we optimize the scaffold, secure the IP around that scaffold, and pick the clinical candidate that we are most comfortable with. We want to bring each one of those candidates as close to IND as we can, as we start to look for partners. We do not want to be a clinical phase company at this stage of the game. We are happy to have partnerships at the IND level and let the clinical stage companies then drive it through the clinic. We think this is the best way to target pathways that might not be on the radar of big pharma and we can de-risk them by scientific review in the SBIR program.
What is SSTI’s financing strategy moving forward?
The fundamental part of our strategy has been making sure that we are funding these projects through the SBIR program. If we bring on an investor that wants to buy into our strategy, we need US$10 million from an active partner to help grow out our programs for everyone’s benefit. It keeps our equity solid and does not dilute it out. We are four scientists realizing our dream, taking our basic science knowledge and translating it directly into drugs that help heal people.
What are your thoughts on how to boost entrepreneurial ecosystems around universities to create more spinoff companies?
You can fund an academic lab, but there is a gap in getting from the lab to something that industry is truly interested in. Getting the funding necessary to achieve this needs to go beyond the academic grant system. What the universities fail to do is identify how to get investment philanthropy into those young companies. If you couple that with a cancer center, you should be able to do the biochemistry of your pathway, and drug screen all the way to clinical trial, because you pump it back into universities. If it is done right and has phase one trial documents and the entire infrastructure for IND, it would allow for efficient progression. The problem is finding that US$2-3 million per project that you need in excess of an SBIR grant.
What goals does SSTI with to achieve over the next 18 months?
I would like to have two compounds in IND. Financing is our biggest hurdle, and we are working to exploit all possible mechanisms out there. We want to get our pipeline drug candidates in front of those who want to buy in, either pharma partnerships of venture capital financing. We are ready to make a difference.