UMN startup receives $7 million to create drug for cancer treatment

ApoGen Biotechnologies hopes to develop the drug for cancer therapy, eventually making it more curable.

Neha Panigrahy

A startup company run by University of Minnesota scientists is developing a drug that could transform how cancer is treated.

ApoGen Biotechnologies is working on a method to block enzymes that induce mutations in tumors, allowing traditional treatments to be more effective. The startup just received $7 million and is planning to open a research facility in the next year.

Treating cancer with drugs can be ineffective, because cancer often stops responding as it grows resistant to the drug. This is common in chemotherapy.

Since cancerous cells are constantly evolving and mutating, it’s difficult to continue effective chemotherapy after some time.

“The bigger vision is allowing other cancer therapies to be more successful by this drug,” said Rueben Harris, one of the founders and researchers of ApoGen.

APOBEC 3B, a class of enzymes found in humans, has been shown to induce DNA mutations in tumors. The drug ApoGen is working on would block the enzymes to prevent growth and mutations. If the cancer cells can’t evolve, they can be destroyed by drug therapy methods.

“The goal is to develop drug inhibiting APOBEC 3B for cancer therapy, and eventually make it more curable,” said Daniel Harki, a founding member and researcher of ApoGen.

Harki and Harris are working with John Santini, an MIT graduate who has worked with startups since the 1990s.

The company was founded in August 2014 in St. Paul.

In late November 2016, ApoGen Biotechnologies received $7 million in funding from Accelerator Corporation to further the research. Santini said Accelerator Corporation, a science investment firm, has been helpful in providing funding, initial resources and manpower to make the company run smoothly.

In the next year, ApoGen Biotechnologies plans to open a research facility in Seattle.

“I pursued this because as a scientist, I was excited about the project. The commercial potential for the drug can help thousands of people,” said Santini, another founder and one of the board members of ApoGen.