Northwestern medical startup wins competition for potential breast cancer treatment

Rebecca Savransky, Campus Editor

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A Northwestern medical startup won a competition earlier this month for a device they created that could potentially improve the treatment of breast cancer patients.

The team, who was named the global champion of the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition, coined the business Innoblative Designs. The device they developed aims to reduce treatment time for breast cancer patients by treating the tissue around where the tumor is removed in an effort to eliminate the radiation stage, said Feinberg Prof. David Mahvi, principal investigator on the study.

The way you traditionally treat people with breast cancer is through removing the tumor and then giving radiation therapy to prevent the tumor from coming back, Mahvi said. He added that this is normally a very lengthy process requiring long periods of treatment.

Mahvi said the newly developed treatment would serve as an alternative method to target breast cancer and would hopefully shorten the process.

“It’s just a different way to approach this which we would hope would be much better for the patient, meaning that they wouldn’t have the misery of having to come in all the time to have the radiation,” he said. “It would hopefully be relatively inexpensive relative to other types of therapy.”

Mahvi said he is hoping the team accomplishes the project relatively quickly but said there are several more steps involved in making this into a clinical device.

The competition win will increase the likelihood that this project will be successful by giving the group access to capital and allowing them to hire additional people for the company, Mahvi said.

Mahvi said although he has been thinking about starting this project for a long period of time, the execution up until this point has been difficult.

“This is one of the duties of entrepreneurship,” he said. “It’s something that we as clinicians have been thinking about for a while that it sounds like a good idea but we never actually have the time or resources to do it and these guys put a business plan around it and were able to take it to the next level.”

Graduate student Jason Sandler, a member of the team, said the company started organically rather than through a set class, differing from how many other startups form.

“Innoblative started when a few surgeons from Feinberg and Northwestern Memorial Hospital thought of applying an energy modality with which they had some expertise in the liver to the breast for breast cancer treatment,” he said.

He said going forward, the team is exploring the possibility of a partnership with a contract manufacturer.

“We’re really focused right now on shoring up our regulatory and intellectual property strategies while simultaneously moving to the next phase of design, optimization, verification and validation,” Sandler said.

Mahvi noted the team will not know for sure if the device will work until the testing is done, but added that similar devices have been built to deliver energy to other types of tissues, just not specifically targeting breast cancer.

“(I’m) certainly not sure that it would work but it makes logical sense that something that we use to deliver energy to other tissues would work in this particular setting,” he said.

He added that throughout the process, the project has been primarily driven by the students, noting NU brings together individuals with many different talents, which creates the ability for projects like these to be completed.

“It really wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without their enthusiasm and knowledge base about how to really take an idea and turn it into a business proposition,” Mahvi said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted Jason Sandler. The Daily regrets the error. 

Email: rebeccasavransky2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @beccasavransky

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