Jessica Winter was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011. The professor of biomedical engineering has since devoted her time to biomedical cancer research.
In June 2012 during the middle of her treatment, Winter started her own company, Core Quantum Technologies, dedicated to diagnostic technologies for cancer detection and determined to help cancer patients by turning her own lab research into clinical cancer therapies.
“There’s a time gap — a month or more — between when you have cancer and the surgery, so I had time to really think about a lot of things,” Winter said. “I did feel like in my research, I wish I would do more.”
Pushing through her treatment process for over two years, Winter said the traditional paradigm of cancer research, under which a majority of research papers are only read and discussed by a very small group of researchers without ever making themselves to cancer patients, seemed more and more problematic to her.
“You might be working on a very important problem, but if all you ever do is publish papers that the same 10 people read and argued about, are you really helping cancer patients?” Winter said. “My paper does not translate into any product that’s helping anyone — there is a gap between the information we have and how it can be used in a therapeutic way. So I’m saying let’s bridge the gap.”
Winter said she was assisted by two students who have now graduated. They made their first attempt to optimize and scale up the production procedure of a new type of molecular label named Multidot, which can be used to identify biomarkers, the signatures of different cancers, almost like a cancer detector.
“When you are diagnosed with cancer, (doctors) look for certain markers in your tissue to see if you would respond to certain drugs and our product identify those markers,” Winter said.
The company’s product is based on nanoparticles, an emerging technology which might replace current chemical labels in clinical practices and provide more sufficient information for doctors with a smaller amount of the cancer patients’ tissue, according to Qirui Fan, a graduate student who also works as a research scientist at Core Quantum Technologies.
Winter said obtaining funds for Core Quantum Technologies’ clinical research is another challenge because once new research is published, people tend to view the clinical translation coming after it only as the “incremental work,” which is deemed to be less important.
“It is very difficult to start a new business. If you look at the statistics, you are much more likely to fail than to succeed,” Winter said. “But we will try very hard and learn a lot; we will have advanced the technology quite a bit. So wherever the company will end up, we are so much further along the pipeline than we were before, but right now we are still trying to succeed.”
Winter said thanks to the help from OSU and other business partners, Core Quantum Technologies is on the right track.
The company is now primarily funded by private investors, state and federal government grants as well as a number of philanthropic organizations such as Pelotonia and Women & Philanthropy. OSU alumna Kristie Melnik, who has experience in running startups, is now working as their CEO after being referred to Core Quantum Technologies through the OSU Technology Commercialization Office.
Core Quantum Technologies is planning to make the initial filing with U.S. Food and Drug Administration in nine months and is looking to sell the product in two to four years, Winter said.
“Now having been through the business process, I have so much more respect for what that job is,” she said. “I understand it in a way I never did before.”
While shifting the focus to running a business and commercializing research outcomes, Winter said they’re still doing a lot of research.
“Most of the best technologies come from fundamental research in a way that we would’ve never, ever predicted,” Winter said. “We should start with funding fundamental research, which is kind of like growing a tree with some really pretty flowers on it, but you can’t say only flowers are important because you have to have the tree to get the flowers.”