April 26, 2022 | By Sara Murji
LabCentral recently announced the two winners of the 2021 Ignite Golden Ticket program, which provides support and access to biotech founders that are traditionally underrepresented in the industry. This win covers the cost of one bench and one scientist for one year at LabCentral and includes exclusive access to our network and resources as a LabCentral Ignite Fellow.
As part of our blog series showcasing the Ignite Golden Ticket recipients, we spoke with Alison Burklund, Ph.D., co-founder and CTO of Nanopath, to learn more about the company and how winning the Ignite Golden Ticket will impact its research and development.
Tell us a little bit about your background and what your company does.
I met my co-founder Amogha Tadimety while we were both working on our PhDs at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. We were working on different aspects of disease diagnostics: I was working on sample prep, and Amogha was working on a technological alternative to a PCR test. Naturally, we thought, what if we could grab one rare cell of interest – whether it be bacterial or a virus – break it open, access its intercellular material, and probe it in a highly specific way? That could be transformative in the molecular diagnostic space.
We started Nanopath pre-pandemic when we both were wrapping up our PhDs, at a time when no one was interested in infectious disease or diagnostics. Fast-forward to today, because of Covid-19, everyone wants to know the state of their health and well-being in real-time, which requires access to better performing, more rapid diagnostics. After talking to over 100 stakeholders (clinicians, lab directors, etc.), we recognized that there is a screaming need for this type of technology, not just in the context of respiratory infections like Covid-19, but also in the women’s health space, which has been consistently overlooked.
Today, women go into an OB-GYN office, and there are no existing point-of-care tools that enable them to get a concrete answer about what’s causing their pain or discomfort within the timeline of that office visit. For example, if a woman goes in for a possible urinary tract infection (UTI), they will be told maybe two to three days later what specific bacteria was actually causing that infection, so they may have to switch from the antibiotic they were initially given to another one, or they may have never needed antibiotics in the first place. What we’re trying to do is provide extremely granular and clinically actionable information within a single appointment, so you leave the office with either targeted therapy or a concrete treatment plan. You can think of Nanopath as the one-stop-shop for outpatient OB-GYN visits. We’re currently focused on pursuing rapid HPV genotyping and UTI diagnostics, but our technology has applications in many other disease spaces as well, both within and outside of the women’s health space.
What attracted you to the Ignite Golden Ticket program, and what have you benefited from the most so far?
I think the fact that we are two women running a women’s health company really aligns with the mission of the Ignite Golden Ticket, which is to support individuals who typically experience more barriers to entry in this field. The fellowship program associated with the win has been a huge asset for us, especially right now as we are raising our next round of financing. Through the program, we’ve been able to sit down with industry leaders in our field that can connect us with people who might be interested in supporting our company.
What aspect of the program are you most looking forward to now that you’ve won?
We are excited by this particular Golden Ticket win because we are an extremely mission-driven team. Winning this Ignite ticket has inspired us to want to pay it forward to other women, however we can. How do we engage in more STEM outreach? How can we bring in underrepresented interns to give them an opportunity to dive into the Kendall Square ecosystem? This win has given us the space, time, and capital to make this a priority for the company.
In your Ignite Golden Ticket pitch, you touched on the importance of diversity within your team. Can you elaborate?
Having a diverse team is something that is hugely important to us. As founders, we want people who think incredibly differently from us. We want to be challenged, we want people to push back on us, and we believe that comes from having a team that has completely different world views and experiences from myself and Amogha. As we interview candidates and grow our team, we ask ourselves, “Is this someone who is going to challenge our perspectives on the world, not just on science and business?”
How do you think this will accelerate your research or development? And what’s next for Nanopath?
We really want to see this technology get to patients and not just be a research tool. This win is helping us maintain the momentum that we have going into our two clinical studies. We currently have an active ongoing study and collaboration with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and another one starting with Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The Ignite Golden Ticket allows us the opportunity and flexibility to continue to drive clinical research forward with these two state-of-art institutions.
As for the timeline, we’re actively building out multiple products for different clinical indications, the first being a UTI test. Our hope is to have our submission to the FDA in about two years and then an additional year to get it approved and on the shelf.