TVAX: Cancer Researcher-Turned-Startup Founder Takes DIY Approach
Cancer Researcher-Turned-Startup Founder Takes DIY Approach
It’s a cancer immunologist’s dream to discover a safe and effective way to coax the body’s own immune system into waging war against invading cancer cells. Building a startup company around that finding, though, is definitely not every scientist’s forte. For Gary W. Wood, making the leap from laboratory to C-suite seemed like the next logical step.
Cancer research “should ultimately lead to improved treatments for patients,” explains Wood, the founder, chief science officer and chairman of TVAX Biomedical, Inc., in Lenexa, Kansas. “And I became aware that the science I was doing had that potential.” But as Wood has discovered, the startup route isn’t for the faint of heart.
He offers this advice:
Lay the groundwork -- This year, TVAX will begin critical Phase IIb clinical trials of its unique approach, a one-two punch combining cancer cell vaccination and “killer” T cell treatment. Early-stage life science companies often falter long before initiating large-scale studies. Ensuring that the vaccine-based cancer treatment was backed by ironclad science before launching a company remains one of Wood’s best decisions. Early proof-of-concept studies conducted largely while he was a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center conducting cancer immunology research gave him confidence because he knew the treatment worked and could make money.
Secure financing first -- Attracting capital without a high-quality management team in place is “difficult,” but luring top-notch management without capital is “impossible,” Wood says. Before leaving academia to start a business, line up sufficient funding to reach a meaningful milestone -- “one that has a high probability of leading to additional capitalization,” he advises.
Become an expert -- Wood has immersed himself in every aspect of the business, including the establishment of a manufacturing facility that meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations. He favors the do-it-yourself approach because it avoids the risks associated with contracting services and preserves shareholder value.
Snatch victory from the jaws of defeat -- Due to poor market conditions, TVAX pulled its planned $20 million initial public offering last May, but the failed IPO wasn’t a complete flop. Wood learned a lot along the way. Going through that process “expanded exponentially” the company’s national contacts, he says. It enabled the company to identify an experienced CEO to raise capital to fund randomized testing of the company’s “killer” T cell treatment. Plus, “It hugely raised the profile of the company,” he says.