Left to right: Einstein Inaugural Therapeutics Venture and Pitch Competition winner Dr. Evripidis Gavathiotis and the second place team Dr. David Shechter, Dr. Kira Gritsman, and Dr. Seiya Kitamura. Photo: Albert Einstein College of Medicine
NEW YORK – Scientists, venture investment firm leaders, and industry stakeholders gathered on June 7 to attend Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s inaugural Therapeutics Venture and Pitch Competition. The event, organized by Einstein’s office of biotechnology and business development, featured three research teams presenting their novel therapeutic approaches for potential investment and development. The day culminated in the announcement of the winning proposal, which was selected by representatives from the three biomedical and/or life science investment firms that co-sponsored the program: Orange Grove Bio, AlleyCorp, and Alexandria Venture Investments.
The winning proposal, which will receive $50,000, was Targeting BRAF for Cancer Therapy by Evripidis Gavathiotis, PhD.
Mutations in the BRAF gene have been implicated in a range of cancers, including melanoma, colorectal, lung, thyroid, and pancreatic cancers. This oncogenic gene produces an enzyme, also called BRAF, which is a kinase that plays a critical part in a signaling pathway that is the hallmark of many cancers. Existing BRAF kinase inhibitors are not entirely effective to block BRAF kinase because mutant BRAF forms dimers—two kinases joined together—which are resistant to current inhibitors. Dr. Gavathiotis and his team will develop a novel BRAF inhibitor that has been shown to target BRAF monomers and dimers selectively and effectively in melanoma, colorectal, and non-small cell lung cancer cells. This patented technology also provides a framework to discover and develop inhibitors of BRAF dimers in a range of solid tumors and blood cancers that don’t respond or that develop resistance to existing FDA-approved drugs.
“We were immensely pleased to have the opportunity to showcase Einstein’s research excellence and support the entrepreneurial spirit among our faculty,” said Janis Paradiso, MBA, CLP, director of Einstein’s office of biotechnology and business development. “The strength of all the proposals is a testament to the exceptional research conducted at Einstein and the commitment of our faculty to ensure their findings are shepherded through the development pipeline.”
The pitch contest was the result of a unique partnership established between Einstein and the three venture investment companies in the fall of 2021. The focus is to support the development of novel therapeutics by the College of Medicine’s researchers. All three companies are dedicated to accelerating the growth of innovative healthcare and life science companies.
The event opened with a welcome from Dr. Gordon F. Tomaselli, the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz dean at Einstein and executive vice president and chief academic officer at Montefiore Medicine. “Most of the things that Einstein does exceptionally well start at the bench,” he said. “To translate our discoveries into treatments that benefit patients requires partnerships like this.”
The three finalists were chosen by an expert panel of scientists, investors, and drug development professionals based on their submitted applications. Each research team received more than six months of mentorship. Two of the three projects specifically target malignancies and all three are led by members of the National Cancer Institute-designated Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center.
The other finalists were Developing a Drug for Acute Myeloid Leukemia by Dr. David Shechter, Dr. Kira Gritsman, and Dr. Seiya Kitamura; and Mimicking Metabolites to Treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease by Dr. Sridhar Mani.
Dr. Gavathiotis is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and in the Department of Medicine (Cardiology) at Einstein.
His area of research includes chemical biology, structural biology, medicinal chemistry, drug discovery, BCL-2 family proteins, protein-protein interactions, kinase signaling, cell death, apoptosis, mitochondria, autophagy, cancer, and aging.
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