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Tobias Zutz found himself looking for a new challenge in 2015.
With R&D experience in test development and molecular diagnostics, he was a member of the R&D team at Exact Sciences that developed Cologuard, a non-invasive colorectal cancer screening test.
So Zutz sat down with Jennifer Gottwald, Director of Licensing at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, whom he knew from their Masters in Biotechnology program at UW-Madison, to review WARF’s patent portfolio and discuss diagnostic technologies. which could be licensed and potentially marketed.
“One that wasn’t on my list was these methylated DNA biomarkers for prostate cancer, and she put me in touch with David Jarrard, associate director of translational research at the Carbon Cancer Center,” who discovered these biomarkers, ”Zutz explains.
Zutz licensed the technology from WARF and founded Gregor Diagnostics.
“WARF is a key partner,” says Zutz, CEO of Gregor, who also holds a BS in Biochemistry and Genetics from UW-Madison. “He is also an investor.
Gregor Diagnostics is developing a prostate cancer screening test using seminal fluid as a source.
“When I started looking for what to work on next, testing rates had been going down since 2008,” says Zutz. “Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in men and the second killer, so why are the rates going down? “
Zutz learned about the history and current state of prostate cancer screening and knew there had to be a better solution. With so few people getting reviewed, Zutz saw a huge market opportunity, as did the team at WARF Ventures.
“This is another great opportunity and a much needed solution in the prostate cancer market,” said Greg Keenan, Senior Director – Venture and Accelerator at WARF Ventures. “The market opportunity here is huge. “
“Gregor Diagnostics demonstrates the power of our ecosystem. Gregor is a startup that integrates UW technology and is a prime example of how UW knowledge is translated into companies that solve important problems in the world and create jobs.
WARF Ventures invests seed capital in emerging companies and provides connectivity and market expertise, with the goal of advancing technologies in the market and driving a return to UW-Madison. WARF Ventures also attracts venture capital from other regions.
“We’ve been quite successful in leveraging additional VC funds into our businesses through these networks,” says Keenan. “When the talent is in Madison, we bring investor money to those companies.”
Keenan says it’s helpful for Gregor Diagnostics to be part of an ecosystem in Madison that includes big companies like Exact Sciences for potential exit opportunities.
“Toby is a great example of someone who worked at a successful business that developed a cancer diagnosis and then built a business around a technology he found on campus,” Keenan said. “Madison has a long history in diagnostics at UW and with startups. We have a community of diagnostics and business success experts like Exact Sciences. There is a symbiotic relationship between a leading business that benefits the university and UW’s research and technology that can benefit businesses as they grow.
The company uses the basic facilities of UW-Madison, which is both economical and provides access to instrumentation experts from the university.
“We can’t buy an instrument for $ 200,000, but we can rent time on it,” Zutz explains.
The company has published the first results and will begin a second study in March. Next steps will include a large FDA pivotal trial to screen asymptomatic patients, fundraising, and finding a clinical site partner. The company has raised a total of $ 2.9 million to date.
“The ultimate goal is to bring this new screening test to market,” says Zutz.
Gregor Diagnostics is incubating within Forward BIOLABS, an independent nonprofit within the University Research Park that was established to provide lab facilities to start-up biotech startups.
“It was a huge advantage,” Zutz says. “We raised $ 900,000 in 2018 to begin development work, but equipping a full lab costs $ 250,000, so having access to Forward BIOLABS equipment and facilities has really helped. “
In addition, the small team of Gregor Diagnostics benefits from being part of the Forward BIOLABS startup community.
“Having access to a fully equipped lab makes the capital required to start a biotech company more comparable to software startups,” says Aaron Olver, CEO of University Research Park. “The ability of Forward BIOLABS to help businesses at an early and crucial stage and to extend this support well beyond the initial help is crucial. “
Olver says that start-ups frequently “graduate” from Forward BIOLABS to other spaces in the university research park, such as the MG&E Innovation Center.
“Gregor Diagnostics demonstrates the power of our ecosystem,” says Olver. “Gregor is a startup that integrates UW technology and is a great example of how UW knowledge is translated into companies that solve important problems in the world and create jobs. “
“A strong UW-Madison is a key contributor to the birth of new biotechnology companies and jobs,” says Jessica Martin Eckerly, CEO and co-founder of Forward BIOLABS. “Gregor Diagnostics demonstrates how UW-Madison directly affects Wisconsin’s biotech industry – their founder is a UW-Madison graduate who works to bring UW-Madison technology to patients, and he hires UW-Madison graduates to fulfill that mission. Growing the number of UW spin-outs that then hire talented UW graduates and helping those spin-outs succeed is a goal shared by many leaders in our ecosystem.
UW-Madison contributes $ 20.8 billion a year to Wisconsin’s economy, and UW-Madison-related startups contribute an additional $ 10 billion. Read more here.