Viewpoint Molecular Targeting, an Iowa JPEC Faculty Innovators alumni company, is starting 2021 with momentum. Over the last 6 months, the company raised $18 million in funding, secured its own supply chain of radioisotopes, unveiled positive preclinical data; and received acceptance of its first investigational new drug application by the US FDA in the lead up to their first human trials at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Iowa.
Viewpoint Molecular Targeting develops radiopharmaceutical cancer therapies and complementary diagnostic imaging agents that home in on cancer-specific “signature” proteins to target only cancerous cells. This innovative approach means that imaging could provide data to help determine the potential benefit of therapy to the patient. Although founders Michael Schultz PhD, Frances Johnson MD, and Heyward Coleman established the company in 2008, it underwent a significant transformation when they participated in the Faculty Innovators program in 2015.
“What we really learned is that we needed a fully integrated company to be successful,” said Schultz, Viewpoint’s chief scientific officer. “Investors were really looking for people that really wanted to build a company, that really wanted to figure out how they were going to be competitive in bringing biotechnology products to market.”
The UI Innovators Workshop is an NSF I-Corps site program that provides UI faculty, staff, and students an opportunity to develop marketable ideas and accelerate the start-up process through a 3-week curriculum. At the conclusion, participants are encouraged to then apply with the NSF I-Corps Teams program at the national level. Viewpoint did just that and participated in the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) three-month I-Corps program in Boston in 2016.
In January, Viewpoint closed its Series A Financing round with total proceeds of over $13 million. This success was on the heels of $5 million in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grants secured in 2020, bringing the company’s total SBIR funding to $10 million.
“It was great to be able to bring the story to the people who have the resources to help us get to the next level and to have them believe in us and the team and our approach,” Schultz said. “Being able to make a pitch that was credible to these people really had to do with our customer discovery business development learnings in the Faculty Innovators and I-Corps programs.”
In February, Viewpoint announced that it had secured its own long-term supply of radioisotopes through the National Isotope Development Center. These unstable atoms are a necessary component in Viewpoint’s products, which use radioactivity to help physicians see and treat cancer cells. Most competitors must rely on a third-party supplier for these isotopes, which can create a bottleneck.
“We will be able to get the therapies to the physicians and the patients when they need it, and not on someone else’s production schedule,” Schultz said.
Viewpoint is starting clinical trials with an imaging trial on metastatic melanoma (skin cancer that has spread) at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Schultz and Dr. Yusuf Menda, a nuclear medicine specialist in the Department of Radiology, have received NCI funding to do an image-guided therapy trial on a treatment for neuroendocrine tumors at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Schultz first developed the product with his mentor, Dr. M. Sue O’Dorisio, in UIHC’s Specialized Program of Research Excellence for neuroendocrine tumors, the only such NCI-sponsored program in the nation.
“Research that we did to take it to this level really has roots right here in Iowa,” Schultz said. “It really has the potential to be transformative for these patients. It’s great to have something like that roll out, be from Iowa, and keep rolling forward here.”
Viewpoint has built collaborations all over the world to prepare for expanding its footprint after the first round of clinical trials, but they remain committed to building the foundation for the company in the Iowa City area. Three of the company’s fulltime employees started out as interns while studying at the University of Iowa, and all Viewpoint employees, aside from the founders, are UI graduates.
Schultz says the state of Iowa has also been very helpful to the company’s development, including the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Radiology, Iowa JPEC and UIRF, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, BioConnect Iowa, the EDC and its president Curt Nelson, the Small Business Development Center, and colleagues at UIHC, who have helped Schultz and Johnson transition the research from interesting academic exercise towards a product that could potentially help thousands of people.
“There needs to be an ecosystem that recognizes that all of these players are needed for something like this to be successful,” Schultz said. “All of those things have to fall into place for this to really be an area where we really believe we can build and launch companies that can potentially be transformative.”