A team of Northwestern students won the business phase of the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge – one of 10 winning teams chosen from around the world for the invention they selected. The students developed a winning business plan for a patented, personalized therapy that stimulates the immune system to fight breast cancer.


Over the next four months, the Northwestern team (six students from the Feinberg School of Medicine, Kellogg School of Management, and the Law School) will launch their startup – Orpheden Therapeutics – and pursue a license for the invention.

On June 27, they will have the opportunity to pitch their business plan to interested seed funders in New York with the potential of receiving $100,000 to $10 million to grow their startup. The funders have already committed to evaluate the new startups for seed funding.

The project is an entirely new business model to commercialize inventions from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that have been languishing on the shelves. Big pharmaceutical companies have little interest in taking risks in early-stage technologies. Startups have the ability to take more risk.

The challenge is a partnership between the Avon Foundation for Women, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the NIH, and the Center for Advancing Innovation.

The investigational cancer therapy the Northwestern team selected was invented by Alan Krensky, M.D., a professor in pediatrics and microbiology-immunology, and Carol Clayberger, a professor in microbiology-immunology, both at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Krensky and Clayberger are husband and wife. Krensky also is the dean for development and alumni affairs at Feinberg and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

The invention was chosen for its commercial viability, market attractiveness, medical and scientific merit, operational feasibility, and ability to attract funding.

The therapy being examined uses the naturally-occurring protein granulysin to activate a specific type of immune cell to target and fight cancer while ignoring healthy cells. Immune cells are taken from a patient’s body, stimulated with granulysin, exposed to the patient’s tumor cells to aid in targeting, and then reintroduced into the body to fight the cancer.

This investigative approach has showed promising results in cell and animal research. The Northwestern team will be doing additional preclinical research to evaluate this therapy as a potential treatment option for underserved groups of cancer patients, which initially includes those with triple-negative breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Their goal is to launch a clinical trial for ovarian cancer in 2015.

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