Startup Spotlight Q&A: My Personal Therapeutics
My Personal Therapeutics, a UK-based company, offers personalized cancer therapeutics utilizing technology developed at and in partnership with Mt Sinai Medical Center. We identify personalized cancer treatments for patients based on their tumor genetics. For each patient, we build a genetically matched fruit fly model of the tumor, which is used for large-scale drug screening to find novel and effective drug combinations. This platform can treat even difficult cancers with combinations of approved drugs. Nearly all combinations incorporate non-cancer drugs, making them less toxic and more affordable. Using our proprietary screening data, we are building a powerful AI-driven digital health tool, which can predict effective treatment options rapidly. Our in vivo, high throughput drug screening platform is also used to power biopharma discovery and development.
Laura founded My Personal Therapeutics to advance a groundbreaking personalized approach to cancer and drug discovery developed at Mt Sinai Medical Center. Laura is also the founder & former CEO of Celmatix, a leader in genomics and pharma target generation of women’s health. Laura became passionate about personalized medicine during her Ph.D. studies at Weill Cornell Graduate School for Medical Sciences/Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Since then she has been actively involved in translational advances in medicine.
— In a single sentence, what does My Personal Therapeutics do?
My Personal Therapeutics offers the most comprehensive drug screening platform available globally, providing patients with advanced personalized cancer therapeutics and powering biopharma discovery.
– How did My Personal Therapeutics come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?
Challenges in advances towards ‘precision medicine’ in genomics have centered around the complexity of cancer tumor networks and their ability to rapidly adapt to single-drug treatment.
Faced with frustrations that tumors were too complex to model with existing methods, such as using mice, for example, the former Director of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapeutics at Mt Sinai, Dr. Ross Cagan, (currently Regius Chair of Precision Medicine — Beatson Institute for Cancer), suggested modeling individual patient’s cancers in the fruit fly, as complex tumors comprising up to 20 mutations or genetic alterations could be modeled, and that hundreds of thousands of fruit fly ‘avatars’ could be created for a single patient allowing for a vast number of drugs and combination of drugs to be tested.
The scale of this approach accounts for a patient tumor’s genetic complexity at a level never before achieved in a clinical setting. All treatment recommendations include a combination of a cancer drug and one or more noncancer drugs, making treatments less toxic and more affordable.
After learning about the technology and engaging with Ross, I dedicated myself to commercialization. I was immediately captivated by the potential of the platform to be transformative for personalized medicine. I founded My Personal Therapeutics to give cancer patients a better option.
The company has since developed to offer its Personal Discovery Process platform via leading medical centers globally as well as powering Pharma companies with drug discovery and development. We are also building an exciting AI-driven digital health tool to help predict effective treatment options rapidly.
— What sets My Personal Therapeutics apart in the market?
My Personal Therapeutics is the only platform available that offers high-throughput in-vivo drug screening with the ability to model the true complexity of a tumor. Its technology is at the forefront of developments in personalized cancer therapeutics. It provides patients with truly personalized treatment recommendations precisely based on the individual complexity of their tumor network. This provides even hard-to-treat cancer patients with access to a precise best-fit tailored treatment plan.
It is also transformative for Pharma companies, as it improves their potential to succeed in the clinic. It allows for high throughput investigational or compounds drug screening in a disease-relevant in vivo model, discovering novel combinations, developing biomarker strategies, and enabling the repurposing of existing drugs.
— What milestone are you most proud of so far?
One of our recent milestones has been moving into our new state-of-the-art R&D facility at Westworks, White City Place in London. This is a major achievement and is allowing us to rapidly expand capacity and increase our throughput. In addition, we have designed and built a robotic arm/platform and model for AI-based image capture and analysis with industry leaders V7 and Labman. This will automate the fly scoring post-drug screening and is an important step to increasing lab throughput.
— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?
The first case study from the Mount Sinai Medical Center clinical trial demonstrated the technology’s success in hard-to-treat cancers, published in Science Advances 2019, provided the impetus for raising funds to launch My Personal Therapeutics.
My Personal Therapeutics has been fortunate enough to attract investments from both a U.K. seed fund, a USA health tech angel fund, and independent angel investors. In addition, the company has been awarded two large government grants from the UK’s innovation agency (over £1m) Innovate UK to further develop personalized treatment in gastric and lung cancer.
We are revenue-generating today from both patients and biopharma. While we have received interest from VCs, we are seeking to achieve key milestones, such as building our predictive model for colorectal cancer and initial health economic analysis, before seeking new capital. We are interested in early engagement with sector specialists.
– What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?
The KPIs we’re tracking now is patient and oncologist uptake, biopharma client revenue, health economics- economic value metrics, and predictive factor of our developing digital health tool.
— How do you build and develop talent?
The emphasis since the start has always been on recruiting an exceptionally highly qualified and skilled team. After finalizing a licensing and partnership agreement with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai and securing funding, I began the search for a Chief Scientific Officer and wider team. Through my extended network, I was introduced to Dr. Nahuel Villegas, an experienced drosophila biologist who had been pursuing similar work in his own lab. I then set out to build a world-class team.
— What are the biggest challenges for the team?
One of the biggest most recent challenges that we are proud to have worked through as a team is a constraining effect the Covid pandemic potentially has on the workplace and company operations. For example, during London’s first Covid 19 lockdown, we implemented a contingency plan- with the team members living in walking/biking distance to the lab alternating days with 1 scientist handling the lab work each day. All of our Drosophila (fruit fly) avatar lines are backed up in the Cambridge University Fly Facility so there was no fear of loss. Our plan ensured that we did not lose time pursuing our development goals.
— What’s been the biggest success for the team? How did you celebrate?
As a team, we feel that one of our biggest achievements has been receiving our UK government Innovate UK grant to provide personalized treatment to gastrointestinal cancer patients in collaboration with the NIHR-London In Vitro Diagnostic Co-operative. The solution will provide a personalized alternative to the traditional standard of care practice for GI cancers, diagnosed for 180 people every day in the UK. This has tremendous implications as it will enable us to create personalized treatment plans for patients in an NHS setting, collecting valuable outcomes and health economic data vital to more widespread adoption.
— What’s something you’re constantly thinking about?
I have a healthy degree of self-criticism and I am always striving to be a better leader. Being a startup CEO is not always easy as many times I have the role of CEO but also the role of all the other positions we have not filled. I have to remind myself to not be or worse appear panicked, take a few deep breaths and focus on executing.
— What advice would you give to other founders?
One piece of good advice is to learn to say no. There are so many demands on a founder’s time and I have started to politely say no to some opportunities or engagements so that I can focus on execution. Otherwise, the day can be filled with meetings that aren’t advancing the company’s agenda.
— Have you been or are you part of a corporate startup program or accelerator? If so, which ones and what have been the benefits?
We have taken part in a number of accelerator programs:
- We participated in KQ Labs, hosted by the Francis Crick Institue in London. The accelerator is called KQ Labs to represent the ‘Knowledge Quarter’ area around the King’s Cross, Euston and Bloomsbury regions of the city. The KQ Labs accelerator represents a unique opportunity to foster a vibrant ecosystem for data-driven health. This program came with a £40k investment via a convertible note from the Wellcome Trust.
- We participated in the Health Hub Vienna program, which provides mentorship to leading digital health companies by pharmaceutical, insurance, and technology leaders in Austria, including Pfizer and Novartis, providing important links to further our business development.
- We have also participated in the Barclays Eagle Labs/ University of the City of London, P4 Precision Medicine Accelerator, gaining valuable assistance with business development and introductions to key players in the UK digital health community.
- Finally, we were delighted to have been selected into cLab Ventures, The Global Network of Cancer Projects, as 1 of 12 startups that are providing innovative solutions in the fight against cancer.