My Personal Therapeutics is a startup based in the United Kingdom that offers a revolutionary method of defeating cancer developed at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York.
Laura Towart, CEO of My Personal Therapeutics, and a scientist and serial entrepreneur, explains the serendipitous beginnings of her company.
My Personal Therapeutics uses hundreds of thousands of fruit flies as avatars to test different … [+]
My Personal Therapeutics
Dr. Ross Cagan, a world renowned fruit fly geneticist at Mt. Sinai, was talking to an oncologist at the medical center who was expressing his frustration that tumors were too complex to model with existing methods, such as using mice.
It has been standard practice in cancer research to implant cells or tissue from a cancer patient into a mouse avatar to test drug therapies. Although it has been important to study disease processes, this strategy could not be trasnferred easily to the clinic.
Cagan suggested modeling individual patient’s cancers in the fruit fly, for the simple reason that hundreds of thousands of fruit fly avatars could be created for a single patient – an impossibility with mice – meaning many more drugs and drug combinations could be tested.
“It’s almost like you have to respect the complexity of a tumor to be able to tackle it,” Towart said.
Before becoming involved with My Personal Therapeutics, Towart was studying for her doctorate at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. In 2008, Towart and her former roommate from Weill Cornell founded Celmatix. The company uses large data sets, i.e. big data, to help women dealing with infertility.
“Celmatix was born out of the idea of thinking about the complexity of female infertility from a genomic level,” Towart said. “Why are women failing in vitro fertilization? What can we do to better understand the genetic origins of female infertility?”
After a few years of building the company as CEO, Towart took a lesser role at Celmatix to raise her young children. Soon after, she was contacted by Mt. Sinai regarding the work Cagan was doing with fruit flies.
“I started working with them seven years ago, with the idea that when it was ready to be commercialized, I would do it,” Towart said.
Laura Towart, CEO of My Personal Therapeutics.
My Personal Therapeutics
Mt. Sinai had a clinical trial for their work with fruit flies involving 23 patients for whom there was no other treatments available, a precondition for being included in the trial. The first case study was published in the scientific journal, Science Advances, which Towart said provided the impetus for raising funds to launch My Personal Therapeutics.
One of the patients in the trial suffered with a particularly difficult case of colorectal cancer, for which the 53-year-old man had exhausted his treatment options. Using its fruit flies for testing, Mt. Sinai came up with a novel two-drug combination that resulted in a 45 percent reduction in the size of the patient’s tumor.
Unfortunately, the patient developed secondary tumors, which is common in patients of such late stage, and succumbed to his disease after 11 months.
Additional case studies from the clinical trial will be published as the patients are treated and their outcomes are realized.
“It is really complex,” Towart said. “Some tumors respond to immunotherapy, some don’t. For patients it’s a difficult maze of trying to figure out the best treatment, and we’re trying to help patients solve that.”
My Personal Therapeutics has laboratories in central London. Towart, a native New Yorker, moved to the United Kingdom to start the company.
“We can generate interest from Europe and the United Kingdom,” Towart said. “It’s a foothold for global expansion.”
Fundraising, however, has been challenging. Towart said European investors are a lot more risk adverse than their American counterparts. But she said My Personal Therapeutics is fortunate to have attracted investments from both a U.K. seed fund and angel investors.
My Personal Therapeutics has raised about $900,000 so far, and has been selected by the Welcome Trust, an independent global charitable foundation, for an accelerator program that will allow the company to rapidly enter the market and develop relationships with pharmaceutical companies.
Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City developed the cancer-fighting technique utilizing fruit … [+]
My Personal Therapeutics
The fruit flies don’t come cheap. Towart said the physical manipulation of testing drug combinations on up to half a million fruit flies for one patient costs $11,200 for patients with colorectal, gastrointestinal or esophageal cancers. The charge is $15,000 for any other tumor.
There are some tumors that My Personal Therapeutics can’t take on.
“We don’t offer it for tumors driven by hormones, like breast and prostate cancers,” Towart said.
At the moment, Towart added, insurance doesn’t cover the cancer fighting technique developed by My Personal Therapeutics. But Towart said the company is working on integrating artificial intelligence into the process, which will bring costs down and speed up treatment recommendations.
At that point, Towart said My Personal Therapeutics will push for insurance companies to reimburse patients for the treatment.