Brown U. and Johns Hopkins Researchers Form Sentient Bioscience to Improve Liver Cancer Treatment

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on existing treatments, but he declined to say exactly how the startup plans to do this. Yet he noted that his firm’s research could lead to a better treatment for deadly “secondary” liver cancers that are caused by cancers that spread to the liver from other organs in the body and are difficult to treat effectively with current embolization therapies, he added.

The other founding researchers behind this cause include Edith Mathiowitz, a professor of medical sciences and engineering at Brown and former member of prolific MIT inventor Bob Langer’s lab, and Jean-Francois Geschwind, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Mathiowitz is also a co-founder of former Brown biotech spin-out Spherics, which managed to raise more than $50 million after launching in the late-1990s before it fizzled out in recent years because of financial problems.

Murphy, who is acting president of Sentient, says the three scientific co-founders bring an effective combination of clinical and research expertise to the young operation. “We’re starting on the side of clinicians who understand the problems very well and are looking to develop the technology that suits those problems,” Murphy said. “I think in a lot of cases companies are founded based on technology that is novel, and then seeks to fit in with a problem.”

Rich Horan, senior managing director of Slater, said that the current market for cancer embolization therapies is young and has potential for significant growth. BioSphere, which sells embolization treatments for cancerous and non-cancerous tumors, reported 2008 revenue of $28.8 million. Exact figures on the size of the embolization therapy market for liver cancer are hard to come by, however. Sentient is now hunting for additional investors, Murphy said, and the startup would like to raise $2 million in a Series A round of financing. For now, the firm has yet to hire its first full-time employee and plans to recruit a senior management team to lead the operation. Murphy said he doesn’t plan to become a full-time executive for the startup.

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