Chemotherapy technology wins top prize in business competition

For certain cancers, less than half of its patients respond to chemotherapy. But ineffective chemotherapy treatment may soon be a problem of the past thanks to a new technology invented right here at UC Davis.

Start-up biotech company Accelerated Medical Diagnostics took first place and $10,000 at the 11th annual UC Davis Big Bang! Business Plan Competition with an innovative technology allowing doctors to predict the most effective chemotherapy for a given cancer patient.

The Big Bang! Competition is an annual business plan competition run and organized entirely by master of business administration students of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM). The main goal of the contest is to promote entrepreneurship at UC Davis and around the Davis region. The competition provides a resource network for mentorship, networking and financing through partnerships with local businesses, law firms and banking firms.

“We reach out to law firms, financiers and business professionals who mentor and teach workshops,” said Robert Ryan, a graduate student at the GSM and chair of the event. “They all really enjoy the competition as well because it is their way of giving back, not just in dollar sense but also by means of passing on their expertise.”

The competition, which started out in the fall with over 30 contestants, culminated May 19 at the final presentations where judges chose first and second place and the audience voted for the “People’s Choice Award.”

This year’s first place winner was Paul Henderson, an assistant adjunct professor of hematology and oncology at UC Davis Cancer Center and his company, Accelerated Medical Diagnostics.

Paul Henderson, an assistant adjunct professor of hematology and oncology at UC Davis Cancer Center, accepted Accelerated Medical Diagnostics first place award. The company developed an innovative technology to predict patient compatibility with certain chemotherapy drugs.

Currently, no effective compatibility tests exist to predict whether the patients will respond to the chemotherapy upfront. Instead, patients are treated with the chemotherapy and if they do not respond, physicians must figure out what to do next, Henderson explained.

“The goal of our technology is to give the correct chemotherapy to the correct patient,” Henderson said.

The technology can be thought of as radiocarbon dating applied to cancer. It uses accelerated mass spectrometry to trace tiny doses of chemotherapy-less than 1 percent of the normal therapy dose-and measure how much of the dose ends up in the tumor.

“We think that by measuring drug tumor DNA levels, we can correlate the drug DNA data to the response data [and establish] a database which we can then use as a product to determine if the treatment is working before administering the full dose,” Henderson said.

The UC Davis Medical Center invested heavily in this project to get it started. The benefits of this technology will translate into significant savings in the healthcare system, as most chemotherapy drugs can be very expensive.

“Right now it is estimated at about 2.5 million dollars per year wasted on unnecessary chemotherapy in the United States. Those patients end up suffering the side effects but do not get the benefits,” Henderson explained.

Henderson said winning this competition is helping his business tremendously.

“We now have $10,000 in cash which we will use for developing the company. Once we have a license in place, that makes us more attractive to go out and get funding that we need to grow the business,” Henderson said.

Second place and audience choice winner in the competition and recipient of $3,000 went to ECO Catalytics who developed catalyst material based on a new technology that reduces platinum use by 95 percent. Presently, platinum catalyst is used in many industrial processes including catalytic converters in cars, fuel cell energy generation, and gas reformation, but it is extremely rare and expensive.

“Platinum is so rare that all the platinum in the world put into an Olympic size swimming pool would only reach your ankles,” explained John-Paul Farsight, a UC Davis MBA student and member of ECO Catalytics.

The company said competing in the Big Bang! Competition has helped their business grow.

“Competing in the Big Bang! has helped us hone the business plan and develop the business. We can now pay for additional testing and third party validation of our technology,” Farsight said.

Eco Catalytics is now focusing on meeting with potential customers and pilot partners and getting feedback on exactly what testing they need to perform.

Steven Currall, dean of the UCDGSM, says the competition is important because while helping foster young entrepreneurs, it brings together the UC Davis community as well as the region around it.

“The Big Bang! Business Plan Competition is a catalytic event for our regions because it brings together students, faculty, local entrepreneurs, and investors in a collaborative effort to create new companies that will both bring innovative new products to the marketplace and foster new jobs for our region,” Currall said in an email interview.

For more information about the competition, the winners, and how to get involved visit the competition’s official website, bigbang.gsm.ucdavis.edu.

CLAIRE MALDARELLI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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