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Startup Gregor Diagnostics Advances New Diagnostic Technology

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Senior Research Associate Joel Wipperfurth performs the analysis at the Gregor Diagnostics Lab Bench within Forward BIO LABS. Photo courtesy of MGE Foundation

From February to June, UW Madison will focus on how to empower the state economy through research and innovation, educate the next generation, and reach out to the University of Wisconsin to improve lives. The theme for February is economic prosperity. Find out more on social media #CantStopABadger and #UWimpact. Your support will help us continue this work.

Tobias Zutz realized that he was looking for new challenges in 2015.

With assay development and molecular diagnostics R & D experience, he was a member of the Exact Sciences R & D team that developed Cologuard, a non-invasive screening test for colorectal cancer.

There, Zutz met Jennifer Gottwald, Director of Licensing, University of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and knew about it in UW Madison’s Master’s Program in Biotechnology. We explored WARF’s patent portfolio and discussed diagnostic techniques that could be licensed and commercialized.

Not on my list were these methylated DNA biomarkers of prostate cancer. She contacted David Jarrard, Associate Director of Translational Research at the Carbone Cancer Center, who discovered these biomarkers.

Zutz licensed the technology from WARF and founded Gregor Diagnostics.

WARF is an important partner, said Zutz, CEO of Gregor, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and genetics from UWMadison. They are also investors.

Gregor Diagnostics is developing a screening test for prostate cancer that uses semen as a source.

Screening rates have been declining since 2008 when I first started looking for what to do next, says Zutz. Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in men and the second murderer. Why is the rate going down?

Zutz learned about the history and current status of prostate cancer screening and knew that a better solution was needed. Like the WARF Ventures team, Zutz saw a huge market opportunity because very few people were screened.

Greg Keenan, Senior Director of WARF Ventures, said it is another great opportunity and a coveted solution in the prostate cancer market. The market opportunities here are tremendous.

Gregor Diagnostics shows the power of our ecosystem. Gregor is a start-up company embracing UW technology and is a great example of how to transform UW knowledge into a company that solves key global problems and creates jobs.

Aaron Olver

WARF Ventures aims to invest early-stage capital in start-ups, provide market connectivity and expertise, bring technology to market and return it to UWMadison. WARF Ventures is also attracting venture capital from other regions.

Keenan has been quite successful in injecting additional venture funding into us through these networks. When talent is in Madison, we bring investor money to those companies.

Keenan said it would be beneficial for Gregor Diagnostics to be part of Madison’s ecosystem and for large companies like Exact Sciences to offer potential exit opportunities.

Toby is a great example of someone who worked for a successful company that developed a cancer diagnosis and founded a company around the technology found on campus, Keenan says. Madison has a long history of diagnostics and start-ups at the University of Washington. There is a community of diagnostic experts and commercial successes like Exact Sciences. There is a symbiotic relationship between leading companies that benefit universities and UW’s research and technology that can benefit their growth.

The company utilizes the core facilities of UW Madison, is economical and provides access to university instrumentation professionals.

You can’t buy a $ 200,000 instrument, but you can borrow time, says Zutz.

The company has announced the results of its first survey and plans to begin a second survey in March. The next steps include a large FDA Pivotal Trial to screen, fund, and find clinical partners for asymptomatic patients. The company has raised a total of $ 2.9 million so far.

The ultimate goal is to bring this new screening test to market, says Zutz.

Gregor Diagnostics is cultivated in Forward Biolab, an independent non-profit organization within the University Research Park, which was established to provide lab facilities for early-stage biotechnology startups.

That was a big advantage, says Zutz. We raised $ 900,000 to start development work in 2018, but the entire lab’s equipment cost $ 250,000, so having access to ForwardBIO LABS equipment and equipment was very helpful.

In addition, a small team of Gregor Diagnostics has benefited from joining the forward BIOLABS community of startups.

With access to well-equipped laboratories, the capital required to launch a biotechnology company is comparable to a software startup, said Aaron Olver, managing director of University Research Park. The ability of Forward BIOLABS to assist companies in the early and critical stages and extend that support far beyond the initial support is crucial.

According to Olver, start-ups often graduate from Forward BIOLABS and move to other spaces in college research parks, such as the MG & E Innovation Center.

Gregor’s diagnosis shows the power of our ecosystem, says Olber. Gregor is a start-up company embracing UW technology and is a great example of how to transform UW knowledge into a company that solves key global problems and creates jobs.

Jessica Martin Eckerly, CEO and co-founder of ForwardBIOLABS, states that the powerful UW Madison has contributed significantly to the creation of new companies and new jobs in biotechnology. Gregor Diagnostics shows how UWMadison directly influences the biotechnology sector in Wisconsin. The founder is a UWMadison graduate working to bring UWMadison technology to patients and is hiring UWMadison graduates to fulfill its mission. Increasing the number of UW spinouts that hire talented UW graduates and supporting the success of those spinouts is a goal shared by many leaders in our ecosystem.

UW-Madison donates $ 20.8 billion annually to the Wisconsin economy, and UW Madison-related start-ups donate an additional $ 10 billion. Please check this out for details.

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