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Life science startup targeting pancreatic cancer receives IU Philanthropic Venture Fund investment

April 23, 2020

The IU Philanthropic Venture Fund has invested $125,000 in the recent Series Seed funding round for Amplified Sciences, an Indiana life sciences startup that leverages patent-protected technology that amplifies difficult-to-find biomarkers.

Its lead assay in development helps clinicians test for pancreatic cancer and better treat patients with pancreatic cysts.

“Among the incredible Indiana community of biopharma and medical device companies, we are proud to be building one of the next world-class diagnostic companies and to call our state home,” Amplified Sciences’ co-founder and current president and CEO Diana Caldwell said.

“During these difficult times, the COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of diagnostic solutions being developed quickly with high accuracy.”

Caldwell developed an interest in life sciences entrepreneurship during a 15-year career at Eli Lilly. “I knew patients were waiting for solutions, and that products could be innovated and brought to market faster by a nimble startup,” she said.

Amplified Sciences’ lead diagnostic test will help providers diagnose types of pancreatic cysts by measuring levels of a specific biomarker in the cyst.

Developing this product has meant calling on experts like Dr. Mohammad Al-Haddad, a gastroenterologist at IU Health who has researched and published on the pancreas for years.

“My personal interest and curiosity has always been the pancreas, including the role of markers in classifying cysts. Many researchers are looking for the golden marker in DNA or RNA to tell us which exact cyst will be cancer,” Al-Haddad said.

“The Amplified Sciences product represents innovation that might allow us to better find that golden marker a little faster.”

Al-Haddad added that when a cyst is discovered on the pancreas, around 30 percent of patients currently go through expensive and invasive procedures to learn a cyst is non-mucinous and presents no risk.

“Amplified Sciences aims to leverage their highly sensitive platform to give high diagnostic accuracy quickly,” he said.

Caldwell said the support of researchers like Al-Haddad and experts at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center has been part of the value of collaborating with Indiana University and IU Ventures: “They have been providing their patient clinical experience and expertise, helping us accelerate to the next phase.”

Caldwell earned an MBA from the IU Kelley School of Business after completing her undergraduate degree in psychology at IU Bloomington. She exited her first life sciences business after nine years of success and became an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Purdue Foundry.

Fellow IU graduate Vincent Jo Davisson earned his master’s in biochemistry at the IU School of Medicine before completing his Ph.D. at the University of Utah. A professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Purdue University for over 30 years, he was seeking an opportunity to take his intellectual property and composition of matter patents outside the laboratory.

Davisson founded Amplified Sciences in 2016 and met Caldwell in 2018 while she was at the Purdue Foundry.

“We’re excited about the potential of our diagnostic platform,” Caldwell said. “Our goal is to first enter the market for pancreatic cancer and quickly leverage our platform technology to develop additional diagnostic tests for other disease states.”

With diagnostic innovation, the patient experience is improved, care providers can focus on educating and treating at-risk patients, and health systems can operate at a lower cost. The significant benefits for all stakeholders involved is one reason this company was chosen for investment from the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund.

“Unmet medical need is always a significant investment consideration when evaluating life sciences opportunities,” said Teri Willey, executive director at IU Ventures and fund manager for the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund. “In this case, we see how diagnostic technology is really key to moving the needle on pancreatic cancer.

“We are excited to invest alongside local partners at Elevate Ventures, Purdue Ventures and Gravity Ventures. This is a prime example of how two premier institutions can build something stronger together by matching the technology developed by an IU alumnus at Purdue with IU medical expertise and resources.”

Caldwell said the number of cancer and diagnostic development experts working in Indiana is one of the state’s biggest assets.

“The Central Indiana entrepreneurial ecosystem draws in world-class researchers and partnerships across our state. These are important assets for a life science startup,” Caldwell said.

“Indiana is home to some of the best university health systems in the United States. We are grateful to receive this investment and appreciate the trust placed in us to help continue the life science momentum in Indiana.”

About IU Ventures

IU Ventures is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering Indiana University faculty, alumni and friends to support and invest in IU-affiliated innovation. Through the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund and the IU Angel Network, IU Ventures works to provide opportunities for individuals affiliated with IU to network with fellow entrepreneurs; build innovative new businesses; and support growing enterprises through donations, investments, time and talents.