In 2014, it was estimated that 1,169,351 Americans were living with melanoma of the skin, a form of cancer. For patients whose disease is detected early, the cancer can be removed by surgery. However, when melanoma spreads beyond the skin (metastatic melanoma), it is lethal and over 10,000 people will die of metastatic melanoma in 2018 in the US alone. Husband and wife duo Mike Schultz and Frances Johnson are looking to bring that number down. While recently introduced immunotherapies have improved outcomes for metastatic melanoma patients, the reality is that only about half of patients respond to these treatments – and side effects can be severe. Based on discoveries in the lab, the couple started Viewpoint Molecular Targeting, LLC, a company based around a revolutionary radio-pharmaceutical to improve those odds.
Mike came up with the idea about ten years ago, while working at University of Maryland, Baltimore. The goal of Mike’s research was to create a molecule that would target and bind to melanoma cells, without affecting the healthy cells in the body. This molecule would carry with it a radioactive atom that would kill the cancer cells. Once Mike realized he was on to something, he knew he needed to find an environment that would allow him to work on this full time.
“Professors at universities are heroes for publishing papers on promising things,” says Mike. He wanted to do more than promise. Once landing at the University of Iowa, he and Frances got to work turning their research into a full-fledged company. They contacted Paul Heath at America’s SBDC Iowa, who helped them develop their business plan, refine their elevator pitch, and gain access to seed capital. “The SBDC has been an outstanding partner in helping us to get access to capital and in helping us prepare our story to tell at pitch competitions and to talk with investors,” says Mike.
As they move closer to clinical trials, Mike and Frances are looking for a CEO to help them navigate the road ahead. “We’re starting to get off the runway,” says Mike. They continue to gain support and funding in the form of NIH SBIR grants and contracts, new investors and pitch competition victories. With the help of SBDC, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Iowa Innovation Corporation, and other organizations, Mike and Frances are striking a blow to metastatic melanoma, and giving hope to patients everywhere.
To learn more about this innovative business, visit their website: http://viewpointmt.com/