Founders Spotlight: Team Meta Test

Editor's note:

Student Venture Associate Kush Mody interviewed cohort member Dr. Juan Arriaga of Meta Test. Based on research from the lab of Dr. Cory Abate-Shen which specializes in prostate cancer mouse models, Meta Test is a gene signature that will discern which patients are likely to develop metastases. 

Kush Mody
June 11, 2020

Kush: Tell us about your team, how did it get started?

Dr. Juan Arriaga: Our team started out of the Abate-Shen laboratory, which specializes in prostate cancer mouse models. Ultimately, we found drivers of bone metastases due to the uniqueness of the mouse models and realized that one of the drivers was targetable. Thus, we teamed up with Dr. Landry’s team at the medical center and went from the biological side of things to the chemical side to see this idea through.

Kush: Tell us about your focus, what are you building/researching?

Dr. Juan Arriaga: We created a gene signature that will tell us which patients are likely to develop metastases. This will allow physicians to spare other patients from treatment that they do not need and specifically target those at highest risk. Our therapy involves bromodomain inhibitors, which is a novel therapeutic approach. Combined with the standard of care this new therapy can be used to treat patients who do not respond to current treatments.

To summarize, our solution is a combination of two functions: 1) To detect patients who are likely to develop bone metastases and 2) to develop a new type of treatment for patients that do not respond to initial therapies

Kush: What is one fun fact about your team?

Dr. Juan Arriaga: One interesting aspect of our team is that we have physically only met once, so you could say that we were way ahead of the game in the socially distancing.

Dr. Cory Abate Shen's lab group

Kush: Why did you choose to join ACT accelerator?

Dr. Juan Arriaga: Being a scientist, I thought it would add value and teach us about the business side of translating our lab discoveries into viable products and ultimately, change patient outcomes in the clinic. 

Kush: What are the biggest challenges you have faced since forming your team/startup?

Dr. Juan Arriaga: One of the biggest challenges was simply getting into the right mindset of commercializing your discoveries and starting to think about the business implications of what you are doing. We realized that there are so many steps that are not scientific at all and the importance of carefully deciding who you surround yourself with and how you manage your team.

Kush: What is the biggest lesson you have learned since joining ACT accelerator? What are the next steps for your company/research?

Dr. Juan Arriaga: One of the biggest lessons that we have learned is that you don’t need to have all the science totally figured out before you start a company. It is important to also be a bit bold if you really believe in what you’re doing. Go ahead and start the company and figure out all the other aspects as you go. As scientists, we tend to want to have all the solutions, but we realize that in business sometimes you just have to be bold and move forward without all the answers and perfect science. This course has helped us develop this perspective.

Kush: What type of support/partnership are you currently seeking?

Dr. Juan Arriaga: We want to get these drugs validated and develop them into drugs that can be used in the clinic. Therefore, it would be great to partner with big pharma or start our own company. The business model for cancer therapies is pretty standard and we know the path, so we don’t have to be too innovative on this, but we will definitely need some partnerships and advice along the way as we move forward from those more experienced than us.