Loma Therapeutics joined BioInnovation Institute’s (BII) Venture Lab program in September 2023. By developing a best-in-class treatment therapy, the company aims to treat Human papillomavirus (HPV) cancer and the underlying infection.
We had a chat with the team consisting of CEO Ditte Boilesen, COO Stephanie Holstein-Rønsbo, and CBO Lasse Nørregaard about how they benefit from being part of BII’s community and what they are currently working on to achieve their goals.
Which problems do you aim to solve?
We’re trying to change things for everyone dealing with HPV, no matter where they are or how far the disease has progressed. Every year, more than 800,000 people get cancer due to HPV, and 350,000 people die from it. Furthermore, millions are diagnosed with pre-cancer dysplasia. Even with preventive vaccines and cervical screening, HPV is unfortunately still a big problem and will continue to be so for decades to come.
Cervical cancer is a significant problem in areas without sufficient vaccine coverage and screening, and in the EU and the US, HPV is also the cause of several other significant diseases, especially head-neck cancer. People with HPV-related cancers must endure harsh treatments like surgery, chemo, and radiation, but strikingly, there is nothing that directly targets the HPV infection. That’s where our HPV-specific immunotherapy comes in.
What inspired you to embark on an entrepreneurial journey?
During Ditte’s Ph.D. project at Hervolution and the University of Copenhagen, she developed Loma’s HPV immunotherapy, and it generated some promising results that suggested that our treatment could be markedly better than other similar treatments in development. Motivated by the project’s prospects, Ditte joined forces with Stephanie and Lasse to make a real difference for people suffering from HPV disease. In August this year, we formed the company with financial support from BioInnovation Institute (BII) and Innovation Fund Denmark.
We were driven by our belief in the project’s impact and in pursuing an entrepreneurial career path.
How do you differentiate yourself from others, and how do you make a difference?
Our solution to combat HPV disease and cancer is a targeted HPV-specific immunotherapy, where we train the body’s immune system to find and kill HPV-infected cells or HPV-cancer cells. We believe that our immunotherapy leads to much fewer side effects compared to the current treatment options like surgery, chemo, or radiation and that our therapy has the potential to cure the underlying HPV infection.
There are other attempts at developing targeted immunotherapies for HPV. However, our technology incorporates much more viral material in our drug design than the others. When the immune system is presented with additional epitopes, it can produce a more diverse breadth of responses, and thereby, we ensure that more patients can produce relevant responses against HPV. The second significant advantage of our drug design is that it allows us to treat HPV very early, so we potentially can prevent cancer from developing instead of treating it retroactively. This is an advantage because a lower disease burden is generally easier to treat, and when treating the early disease, we can protect patients from the anxiety associated with the fear of a cancer diagnosis. This is not to say that we will solely focus on early clearance of HPV, as we also see a specific opportunity to treat certain later-stage cancers with our immunotherapy design.
Which milestones do you need to achieve during the Venture Lab program?
Venture Lab is a unique opportunity for us to develop our product to a stage where we can raise VC funding for clinical testing of our therapy. Our main milestone is clearly defining our target product profile, which will be the foundation for a solid clinical, regulatory, and manufacturing strategy on which we will base our fundraising. Specifically, we are working to achieve this through pre-clinical testing, market analysis, and engagements with clinical advisors. In addition, we are conducting head-to-head studies where we match our technology against competitors to show superiority.
How do you benefit from being part of BII’s community?
Being a small team, we have greatly benefitted from being a part of the BII community. It facilitates access to a collaborative network of fellow life science entrepreneurs. We appreciate that we share the daily workspace with other startups that are currently going through the same issues or have already been on a similar journey, and our BII anchor, Sanne, is super helpful in sharing her knowledge and connecting us with the broader BII network of experts, resources, and entrepreneurs.
Being former researchers and first-time founders, we also benefit from the monthly crunches and halos that provide tailored business development and coaching, which matures our case and us as founders.