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March 7, 2014

Innovation in action: Student-run company to bring new cancer therapy to patients

by Dan Rodriguez

On the heels of a very successful Entrepreneurship Law Center symposium last weekend comes news of a successful startup endeavor that involves two of our JD/MBA students.

John Kuelper and Matthew Rosenstock, both JD/MBA ’14, are two members of a six-person team that formed Orpheden Therapeutics, a company that is working on commercializing a therapy to stimulate an individual’s immune system to fight cancer. The therapy is based on research done by Alan M. Krensky, MD, of the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Orpheden Therapeutics is a finalist in the Business Plan phase of the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge. The idea behind this competition is that there is a lot of important research just sitting out there, currently not being developed but with tremendous potential. The Challenge creates an opportunity for teams to take unused patents and create a business plan that would bring the technology to market. The hope is that this effort will unlock some of this research so that it might benefit mankind.

The Business Plan is an early phase of the larger challenge. Because of their success at this level, Orpheden will be able to compete later in the year for up to $100,000 in venture capital funding.

Orpheden Therapeutics is a project of Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office, which brings together teams from different academic backgrounds to support and accelerate entrepreneurship. Six students compose the team: from the Law School, John and Matthew; from the Feinberg School of Medicine, Jonathan Bell, a MD/PhD candidate, and Mthabisi Moyo and Daniel Levine, both doctoral candidates; and from the Kellogg School of Management, Ronald Mantel, an MBA student.

John is the CEO of Orpheden. He is also a student in the Medical Innovation class, where he is a member of another team, one that is working on an ophthalmology device that simplifies the delivery of post-operative medications to cataract and other eye surgery patients.

These endeavors reinforce something unique to Northwestern: the inclusion of law students on these types of entrepreneurial teams. It might not be immediately obvious why it would be important to have law students on a team that works on cancer therapies or ophthalmological devices. But the fact is these therapies and devices are developed in a highly complex legal and regulatory environment. Many pitfalls lie along the road to commercialization, problems and delays can be avoided by people who understand the requirements. I know from talking with venture capitalists that they value teams that have people who understand intellectual property and regulatory requirements, and they value that expertise because it makes a difference to the bottom line.

Congratulations to John and Matthew and the other members of the Orpheden Therapeutics team, and best of luck in the venture capital round! I look forward to following your progress.

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