Tampa Bay Business Journal | October 28, 2017
By Margie Manning
A biotech startup founded by a Moffitt Cancer Center researcher and a medical business expert on his team has begun commercial development of technology that helps oncologists find the best treatments for their cancer patients.
The company, Interpares Biomedicine, recently bested more than a dozen other firms in BioFlorida's BioPitch competition, a "Shark Tank"-like opportunity to get exposure to potential investors, as well as coaching and feedback.
The pitch competition, held Oct. 17 at The Vinoy Renaissance in St. Petersburg, highlighted the types of companies that Florida and Tampa Bay economic development officials hope to nurture as part of a growing life sciences industry, which brings high-skill workers and high-wage jobs to the area.
Interpares - founded in 2015 by Moffitt researcher Howard McLeod and a member of his team, Neil Mason - traces its roots to the growing field of immunotherapy, or treatment that uses parts of an individual's own immune system to fight disease. A new class of drugs, called immune checkpoint inhibitors, can help the immune system fight off cancer cells. While the drugs can have a dramatic benefit, leading to sustained remissions, some of them also can be very toxic and make patients sick.
McLeod and Mason are developing a suite of diagnostic tests designed to determine the best drug for an individual patient. That's where Interpares gets its name: the word is part of a Latin phrase that means first among equals.
"The drug class we focus on has a number of options, all seemingly equal until you try them on patients," said Dr. Kevin Krenitsky, managing director at Interpares. "Our technology helps a physician make the best decision for the patient, the one most likely to work or the least likely to be toxic."
Krenitsky, a 20-year veteran of the life science industry, joined Interpares as the company moves the first of its five assays - or tests to determine the components of a substance - into commercial development and seeks its first outside funding.
The company was founded in 2015 by McLeod, founding medical director of the DeBartolo Family Personalized Medicine Institute and a senior member in the Department of Cancer Epidemiology at Moffitt, and by Mason, a personalized medicine strategist at the DeBartolo Institute. McLeod and Mason used their own funds to establish Interpares, and negotiated with Moffitt for a license for the intellectual property for one of the five diagnostic tools they are developing. They're now ready to raise seed stage funding, and Krenitsky has the experience to help launch the company, Mason said.
Krenitsky previously was chief commercial officer and a senior vice president at Foundation Medicine (NASDAQ: FMI), a Boston-based biotech that drew a $1.3 billion investment from giant drug developer Roche in 2015. He was president of OpGen Inc. (NASDAQ: OPGN), a Gaithersburg, Maryland-based precision medicine company, before he joined Interpares.
Interpares was one of 40 companies that applied for the BioPitch contest, which does not always carry a monetary prize, but can lead to partnership opportunities. BioFlorida selected 15 seed and early-stage life science companies to compete. The companies presented to investors during a closed-door session. Four of them were selected as finalists and those four presented during the conference's general session to a panel of investors.
Krenitsky highlighted five points from his winning pitch:
- The value of immune checkpoint inhibitors. They are rapidly getting approval to treat one kind of cancer initially, and then either alone or in combination with others they are winning approval to treat additional types of cancer.
- The size of the market. It's greater than $275 million in the United States alone and is growing on a monthly basis. Interpares also has a partnership with a biomedicine company in China, and "anything we would be pure upside," he said.
- The nature of the tests. Interpares' technology uses blood-based testing, instead of requiring a tissue biopsy. A blood test is easy and convenient, Mason said.
- The comprehensiveness of Interpares' products. "There are tests out there, but there isn't a company focused solely on developing a suite or a bundle of tests to pick the right therapy for a patient," Krenitsky said.
- Reimbursement; It's often tough to get insurers to reimburse for diagnostic tests, but some of the technology Interpares uses already qualifies for reimbursement, Mason said.
A diagnostic test can cost about $1,000 to $1,500, while immune checkpoint inhibitors can cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"When you are using something relatively inexpensive to manage drugs that can be six figures, it creates a health economic outcome advantage for the system," Krenitsky said.
The "holy grail" for diagnostic companies is improving clinical utility, Krenitsky said.
"If you can give patients better outcomes because of information given to clinicians, and save the health care system money, you have a good path to success," he said.
Courtney Cox | Senior Account Executive
Moore Communications Group
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