Doctoral student's nanoscale protein analysis technology could help quicken development of improved cancer treatments
Who they are
Anton Iliuk was a doctoral student working with biochemistry Professor Andy Tao, a member of the Purdue Center for Cancer Research, when he set out to develop a more efficient way of looking at the modification of protein molecules by phosphorylation. One of the most common methods the body uses to regulate protein function, phosphorylation, in essence, turns proteins on and off, causing or preventing the mechanisms of diseases, such as the uncontrolled cell growth that is a hallmark of cancer.
This makes proteins abnormally regulated in the phosphorylation process a prime target for new cancer treatments. Now, the work Iliuk began with the idea of improving processes in the lab could help bring those therapies to market faster, as well as help make them more effective and less prone to unwanted side effects.
What they're doing
Iliuk and Tao have started a company, Tymora Analytical Operations, to commercialize the technology for use in research, pharmaceutical development and for other purposes where protein regulation and phosphorylation are of interest.
The company’s first product already has begun selling. PolyMAC is a more efficient, less expensive way of identifying proteins abnormally regulated by phosphorylation. Tymora’s next product, pIMAGO, will screen drugs across the activity of those proteins, particularly the effects on any aspect of the phosphorylation process, which could allow future treatments to be targeted more precisely.
How they got there
Interest the research garnered after presentations at science conferences prompted Tao to disclose the core technology to the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) and its Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC). This is a requirement for commercializing intellectual property developed at the University, but it also serves to protect Purdue’s and the developers’ rights to benefit from the innovations. OTC and PRF can assist Purdue staff and student innovators in filing copyrights, patents and trademarks, as well as in setting up a company, identifying potential investors and marketing. Tymora won a $20,000 Award from Purdue’s Emerging Innovations Fund, a partnership between PRF and the University designed to strengthen early-stage companies that are working with OTC or are part of the Purdue Research Park network. Tymora is based in the research park.
In addition, Iliuk, Tymora’s president and chief technology officer, won a fellowship in the Purdue Realization and Entrepreneurship Postdoctoral and Doctoral Program, which carries a year’s stipend allowing the fellows to pursue the commercialization of their research full time with educational guidance and help from entrepreneurial mentors. The Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship in Purdue’s Discovery Park runs the program. The interdisciplinary center hosts a variety of programs for would-be entrepreneurs at Purdue, including its annual business plan competition, in which Tymora won $15,000 in cash and services to further its efforts. The Tymora team also participated in the Purdue- and Notre Dame-led Nanotechnology New Ventures Competition.
Tymora received a $150,000 SBIR Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation to aid in further development of PolyMAC and pIMAGO. The NSF program aims to assist small firms in commercializing cutting-edge scientific or engineering research with potential for high economic payoff.
"First, dive into your technology and really understand whether there is a need for it, whether there is a market for it," Iliuk says. "If nobody needs it, or if nobody needs to buy it, it’s not a good product, even though it may be the best technology. The second part is trying to get it validated. I found the best way is through either applying for small business grants or entering business plan competitions. You’ll get feedback, saying the market is too small, or you need to modify this, or change that. Even if you don’t make it to the finals, the whole process of writing a business plan, thinking about your business, might tell you if there is really something there."