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Stanford team places first in Breast Cancer Startup Challenge

Courtesy of Ka Yam Chak

Courtesy of Ka Yam Chak

Last month, a Stanford team placed first place in their invention category in the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge, in an event that challenged 200 interested teams to develop new technologies with the potential to advance breast cancer research.

The event was put on by the Avon Foundation for Women in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Center for Advancing Innovation.

Graeme Fielder MBA ’15 explained that the team had worked with a researcher at NCI who was developing a new antibody that would act as a treatment against breast cancer. The team proposed a plan to combine that research with technology in order to bring the researcher’s work closer to the clinical aspect.

“Our next step is to refine our plan, go through the negotiation to get the technology to NCI and raise funding—a lot of funding, which we’re going to do in the next three to four months,” Fielder said.

“It’s a really good experience to work with people from different backgrounds because everyone is doing what they’re doing best but is also willing to learn,” said first-year postdoctoral fellow in neurology Ka Yam Chak, reflecting on the team members’ diverse origins. “I’m actually surprised by our ability to coordinate over three different countries.”

Rosemarie Truman, founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Innovation, also lauded the merits of an interdisciplinary team.

“We proposed the design of the teams to be multi-disciplinary,” she said. “A study was done to see why startups fail, and the number-one reason was because the team was one-sided. If you have a bad invention, you can always work on another product.”

Winners and finalists in the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge will not only be recognized for creating a business plan and pitch, as other competitions require, but they will also be invited to launch a startup, negotiate licensing agreements and raise seed funding in order to further develop their inventions.

“We are looking forward to startups launching around these inventions to accelerate breast cancer research and break the mold of how research is funded,” said Marc Hurlbert, executive director of the Avon Foundation for Women. “This new approach, through our partnership with NCI and CAI, will help translate promising inventions from the academic laboratory to development and commercialization and ultimately benefit breast cancer patients.”

However, despite their successes, the team anticipates some challenges going into the next stage.

“The biggest one is because we’re young and the amount of knowledge you need to get to this particular stage is quite a lot,” Fielder said. “We know a bit about what we need to do. We’re naïve in some situations and need to talk to more people that are experts and be welcoming of knowledge that is given to us. We need to be resourceful and get the help that we need.”

Fielder also added that the drug industry was a relatively challenging sphere but estimated that after two years, the team should be ready to start clinical trials.

According to Chak, the team was extremely privileged to be

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using the resources of the Stanford community.

“What’s great about Stanford is that there’s a lot of physicians here that act as resources. We’re in an environment where we have a lot of resources and the environment just pushes our people to innovate, which I don’t experience in other institutes and is unique to Stanford,” Chak said.

Contact Catherine Zaw at czaw13 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

About Catherine Zaw

Catherine Zaw is the Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. She is a junior from Miami, FL, double majoring in biology and linguistics. To contact her, please email czaw13@stanford.edu.
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