Curing cancer − it’s an enormous undertaking, even for the geniuses on our planet. It requires an astronomical amount of knowledge, research, and funding. The vision and enthusiasm developed for doing such a thing is becoming a reality for Mike Schultz, Chief Science Officer at Viewpoint Molecular Targeting.
When Mike began his career at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md., he had his sights set on a career in radioanalytical chemistry. His work in the Nuclear Medicine Standards Program involved projects with radionuclide manufacturers for the medical field and with scientists and physician doing impressive work on new therapies and diagnostics for cancer. His work caught the eye of the Director of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Maryland, Bruce Line MD, who asked Mike if he knew the implications of his research. Bruce was one of these really inspiring people. Bruce convinced Mike that his background and knowledge could be used to develop new diagnostics and therapies for cancer – and, possibly, a cure.
With aspirations of achieving such a goal, Mike started Viewpoint Molecular Targeting. Located in Iowa City, Viewpoint develops radiopharmaceutical drugs for diagnostics and therapies for cancer, focusing on metastatic melanoma (a type of skin cancer). Viewpoint uses imaging to guide precision personalized therapies for cancer patients. According to Mike, melanoma is the fastest growing incidence of cancer in the United States today with over 75,000 projected new cases in 2015.
Founded by three members, including Mike Schultz, Chief Science Operator, Frances Johnson, Chief Medical Officer, and Heyward Coleman, CEO, Viewpoint is emerging as an exciting Iowa start-up story. We spoke with Mike and asked him to tell us more about the advancements Viewpoint is producing.
Living on the East Coast, what attracted you to move to the Iowa City area?
There were a lot of great things going on at the University of Iowa. The University of Iowa is a big research institution located in a relatively small town, with lots of great opportunities to find top notch collaborators. It was the perfect place for me to get started with my idea for a building a laboratory, which would become a company, out of the discoveries we made in the development of new diagnostics and therapies for cancer.
What sets Viewpoint’s technologies apart from other companies and therapies?
If the disease is caught early, melanoma of the skin can be removed surgically, with a high probability of success. If the disease spreads to other parts of the body, then the outlook for survival is not so good. There is no cure for metastatic melanoma that spreads to other parts of the body. What we have is a combination of diagnostic imaging and targeted radionuclide therapy. We use an imaging agent that helps us identify the location and the extent of the disease. In essence, we can connect a therapeutic radionuclide to a molecule that will seek out the affected area and deliver radiation precisely to the tumor. From the imaging, we can see and precisely determine the dosage of treatment needed, which will direct the therapy to the tissue of interest and cut down on side effects.
What are you anticipating and excited about in the coming months?
We are really starting to gain momentum. We’re on our second Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of Health. We’ve been invited to speak to Iowa’s Economic Development Authority and have a third SBIR that is pending review. Things are looking really good.
Why are the grants important to you?
The SBIR grants are a great starting point. It’s non-dilutive capital for the company. And, at the same time, it vets the science. It’s reviewed by a panel of experts in the field and peers in your field of commercialization. They’re looking at the technology and saying, “Yeah, this is going to be great!”
What do you like about working with MidWestOne?
The thing that is great about MidWestOne is that you have conversations with people who are really focused on the financial aspect of your business. They help you talk through the kind of financial needs you’re going to have in a way that develops strategies for your business so you don’t feel like you’re stuck. Being a start-up company, you rely on a lot of different avenues of funding. We have developed a relationship with MidWestOne that extends to all aspects of our development. They’re helping us get better at predicting what we’ll need to be successful. We are really excited about that.