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Excited to become one of 30 life science startups selected to join the MassChallenge Accelerator!

In 1974, pancreatic cancer killed a 40-year-old Caucasian male. The disease had metastasized to his liver and the standard-of-care du jour had no effect. Scientists at Sloan Kettering cultivated his cells. Four decades later, those cells are referred to as Capan-1, and they’re used by thousands of researchers to test new treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Today we began the first animal trial of our first small molecule candidate at Nivien Therapeutics: NVN-1. A vial of frozen Capan-1 cells will thaw in the labs of our CRO an hour from Boston. The cells will be injected into three cohorts of mice bred for preclinical trials. Within days, the mice will develop the same vicious tumors that killed the original host.

One cohort will receive no treatment. A second cohort will receive the current standard-of-care, which has hardly improved since the 1970s. The third cohort will receive the standard-of-care in combination with NVN-1. We’ll track cancer growth, side effects, and overall survival. Most of the mice will die within weeks. If our strategy succeeds, the mice receiving NVN-1 will live much longer.

We are not creating a cure. Our therapy does not attack cancer directly. Instead, NVN-1 destroys the shields that cancer uses to resist primary treatments. We’re trying to make treatments that could be cures work — or at least work better than they do now. If the trial succeeds, which we’ll know by September, it’ll be much easier to raise a seed round to fund our platform.

In the meantime, we’ve joined the MassChallenge Accelerator, which is an exciting opportunity to take part in Massachusetts’ commitment to promoting innovation. I’ll be working out of the MassChallenge HQ alongside entrepreneurs from throughout the state and across the world.

With the animal trial underway and my partner running our other experiments at the Harvard Life Lab, I’ll focus on our overarching goal: to accelerate the pace at which science becomes medicine. If you share that vision or just want to discuss ideas, shoot me a note.


This post is part of a series of short essays about student entrepreneurship, VC, and translating scientific research into applied technologies. If you enjoyed reading this post check out the others below and feel free to get in touch!

Update: Nivien closed after 2 years. Read our story in The Washington Post.

Written by

Biotech VC. Director or Observer on the boards of six RA Capital companies. Former CEO of Nivien Therapeutics. My writing does not represent RA Capital.

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