Gregor Joins Texas Accelerator to Advance Prostate Cancer Test
When Tobias Zutz left his job as a senior research associate at Exact Sciences in 2015, he knew he wanted his next career stop to be at a smaller organization.
Zutz worked at Madison, WI-based Exact (NASDAQ: EXAS), which has commercialized a stool-based DNA test for colorectal cancer, for more than five years. During his time at the company, Exact added hundreds of employees and had its flagship test, Cologuard, approved by the FDA.
But Zutz ultimately decided to strike out on his own, and last year formed Gregor Diagnostics, a Madison-based startup seeking to commercialize a new, at-home test to screen for prostate cancer.
“I love working in these small environments where you contribute to the success [of the organization] at much higher rate,” says Zutz, Gregor’s founder and CEO.
Zutz will spend the next 12 weeks in Dallas participating in the Health Wildcatters startup accelerator, which kicked off on Wednesday. He says he’s looking forward to working with the accelerator’s staff, which includes several physicians, as Gregor continues to plot its fundraising and regulatory strategies.
The latest Health Wildcatters class comprises nine healthcare-focused startups from across the country. Each participating company receives a $30,000 investment in exchange for an 8 percent equity stake, as well as mentorship, office space, and other resources. The program will culminate on Nov. 8 with a pitch event at the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas.
Zutz says that in the months following his departure from Exact, he began looking for early-stage biotech business opportunities in Wisconsin and other states. He met with a licensing manager at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the tech transfer office of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Zutz subsequently learned about research by David Jarrard, a urology professor at UW-Madison’s medical school who had identified several biomarkers for detecting prostate cancer from samples of seminal fluid.
“That got me looking at prostate cancer,” Zutz recalls. “I noticed that screening rates are declining. We’re just not catching people.”
Indeed, the percentage of U.S. men ages 50 and older screened for prostate cancer declined to 30.8 in 2013 from 37.8 in 2010, according to the American Cancer Society. It is the third deadliest cancer among American men; there will be an estimated 26,730 deaths from prostate cancer this year, the organization predicts.
In 1994, a screening test capable of measuring men’s prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels was introduced for the first time. Zutz says that at the time, the blood-based test was viewed as a major improvement in screening for the disease. However, the test also picked up slow-developing (or “indolent”) cancers that had a low likelihood of harming patients. Picking up those cancers leads to a lot of false positive test results.
“It is an effective screening method for decreasing mortality,” Zutz says of the PSA test. “The problem with it is that you also end up treating a bunch of these indolent cancers that might not cause any problems for the patient.”
The sentiment among middle-aged and older men about getting screened has gone up and down in the decades since the test was introduced, Zutz says. That’s because some men are hesitant to get screened due to what he describes as an “overtreatment problem”: surgeries and other procedures come with risks, but in some cases, little benefit.
Zutz says Gregor’s test is aimed at replacing the PSA test, “to be able to more … Next Page »