issue Summer 2023

Northwestern University Students Help Helix 51 Companies Commercialize Their Science

By Judy Masterson
Michael S. Rosen, MBA, managing director of the Innovation and Research Park and Helix 51 Incubator, meets with Yekaterina Galat, MS, and Vasil Galat, PhD.
Photo by Michael R. Schmidt

RFU’s Helix 51 incubator is helping its member companies make the leap from discovery to commercialization of urgently needed new therapeutics.

“The only way our science can reach cancer patients is to be successful as a business.”

“We’re scientists. We aren’t trained in business,” said Amanda M. Schalk, PhD, co-founder and COO for Enzyme by Design, which is engineering enzymes as superior cancer therapeutics. “But we’re on this journey of entrepreneurship. We think we can make drugs that kill cancer cells without the horrible side effects of chemotherapy. The only way our science can reach cancer patients is to be successful as a business. We realize that we need a lot of help.”

The incubator provides access to industry experts and other resources that now include services through a Northwestern University (NU) course practicum. Students in Northwestern Engineering’s Master of Biotechnology Program helped Dr. Schalk and her colleagues understand drug pricing, think about how to pitch to potential investors and perceive competitive impact to include pre-approved pipeline drugs, as well as those already on the market.

“Our meetings with the interns were extremely proactive,” Dr. Schalk said. “They did a deep dive into our molecule, into future markets, to see how we’re going to be placed. They helped us figure out our target product profile and what’s important to the patients, to the physicians, in order for this to get into clinical trials.”

Students created a decision matrix for ARTEC Biotech to help determine the initial clinical application for their technology, which is focused on developing a natural killer (NK) cell-based cancer immunotherapy that is less toxic, less costly and more efficient than current treatments.

“We’re developing a product that’s very versatile and could be beneficial in so many areas — cancer, infectious disease, fibrosis, HIV,” said ARTEC co-founder and COO Yekaterina Galat, MS. “It’s hard to just decide.”

Armed with the stipulation to seek out cancers that aggressively downregulate immune cells and analysis of factors including the competitive landscape, potential patient population and intellectual property assessment, the students helped ARTEC zoom in on options for product development.

“Thanks to the students, we will be able to create a strong narrative for future pitches and grant funding applications,” Ms. Galat said.

“We were one of the first labs to develop this technology to convert stem cells to NK cells,” said ARTEC Founder Vasil Galat, PhD. “It took us quite a lot of time to focus it into a commercial licensing strategy. We’re in a strong starting position to begin our search for funding and that’s something the incubator can help us with too.”

In addition to the assistance provided by NU, Helix 51 companies benefit from internships through the Chicago-Kent College of Law-Illinois Institute of Technology and RFU’s College of Pharmacy.

Judy Masterson is a staff writer with RFU’s Division of Marketing and Brand Management.