Founders Spotlight: FAP
Grace: Tell us about your team, how did it get started?
Dr. Han: It started pretty naturally. So, my lab has been studying bacterial pathogenesis for two decades and we started studying the bacteria’s role in cancer about 7-8 years ago. I have been collaborating for a few years with Dr. Timothy Wang, Chief of the Division of Liver and Digestive Diseases at CUIMC, and when we started to focus on FAP, I extended the collaboration to Dr. Kastrinos, Director of the GI Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program. Dr. Quiqiang Gao is a postdoc in my lab and Angela is a graduate student who has joined our team as a part of the Lab-to-Market class --we’re thrilled to have her!
Grace: Tell us about your focus, what are you building/researching?
Dr. Han: My lab studies host-pathogen interactions. Our interest in understanding the underlying mechanism of how bacteria stimulates cancer led us to discover the novel oncotarget Annexin A1. We discovered that proliferating colon cancer cells express higher levels of Annexin A1 and the bacterium, F. nucleatum, preferentially binds to these cells explaining why this bacterium is specifically enriched in colon cancer.
People with the orphan disease Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) have germline mutations in the APC gene. We are using what we learned in our Apcmin/+ mouse model which carries a genetic mutation in the same gene to develop a therapy that will inhibit the tumor development by targeting Annexin A1. We hope that this will help patients to live a normal life by avoiding colectomy or at least delay it.
Grace: What is one fun fact about your team?
Dr. Han: We enjoy doing research together and the therapy is a byproduct! As a microbiologist, we were able to use the bacteria as a “bait”, to fish out a novel oncotarget, which was unexpected and was a lot of fun. It also shows that when you approach a “common” (cancer) problem from an “uncommon” perspective, you get unexpected results, which makes the research very fulfilling and worthwhile.
Grace: Why did you choose to join ACT?
Dr. Han: We were invited to join when we filed our patent application. We thought it was an interesting opportunity to learn the commercialization side of things and decided to join!
Grace: What are the biggest challenges you have faced since forming your team/startup?
Dr. Han: The biggest challenges we’ve faced were getting funding and thinking about the market potential of our therapy.
Grace: What is the biggest lesson you have learned since joining the Accelerating Cancer Therapeutics Program? What are the next steps for your company/research?
Dr. Han: Our biggest lesson was learning about how to pitch to investors. A lot of elements go into this pitch such as defining the unmet need, developing the key milestones and timelines, estimating costs and getting across the regulation and IP hurdles.
For our next steps, we hope to test our therapeutics in mice for its efficacy in reducing tumor load.
Grace: What type of support/partnership are you currently seeking?
Dr. Han: We are seeking funding, investors and collaborators