An Iowa JPEC Faculty Innovators alum and Small Business Development Center client, Viewpoint Molecular Targeting, has been advancing through I-Corps training over the past year – including being selected by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to participate in the elite NCI I-Cops business accelerator program that started in Boston, taking the founders across the nation to solidify the company business model.

Viewpoint Molecular Targeting was established in 2008 by Michael Schultz, Frances Johnson, and Heyward Coleman. The company develops radiopharmaceutical drugs for cancer therapy and companion diagnostic imaging agents. Viewpoint’s lead product treats metastatic melanoma (skin cancer that has spread) that is resistant to existing therapies. Their novel approach uses a melanoma-specific “signature” to target their injectable treatment to the cancer cells. A companion imaging agent has been developed that enables identification of patients who will respond to the treatment. The company joined the Faculty Innovators program in 2015.

“The most helpful thing about the Faculty Innovators program for us was being introduced to intense customer discovery. The personal interviews were the single most important part of the program for Viewpoint,” Schultz stated. The customer discovery process even led Viewpoint to one of their potential investors. In addition, the program also encouraged the startup to have open discussions with experts in the medical industry, which has reshaped the company’s approach and understanding of the problems they are addressing. They entered the program as a startup that was planning to commercialize three products and sell consulting services. They ended the program as a company with one therapeutic product, with a huge market potential.

After seeing the benefit of local customer discovery in the Faculty Innovators program, the team realized they needed to take these discussions nationally and internationally to hear from medical and industry professionals. Completing the national level of NCI I-Corps training allowed the company to do just that. “With the completion of the program, we had a clear understanding of our company, our initial indication, expanded indications and what it would take financially to proceed to a liquidity event for the company in five to seven years,” Schultz said.

With the completion of the NCI I-Corps program, Viewpoint has been on the road working to find the right investors. They have even established international connections, having begun technical development in Germany at a world-renowned nuclear medicine clinic. They have also begun conducting pharmacology and toxicology studies that will help them move forward to clinical trials. The company continues to expand their team to include professionals that can help take the company to the next level. Viewpoint is excited to have hired recent Iowa graduate, Edwin Sagastume (BSE), to join the team. Sagastume joined the company as an intern in 2016, and the company has recently been awarded funding through the Iowa Economic Development Authority to support more internships at the company headquarters in the UI BioVentures Center in Coralville. 

Viewpoint has been highly successful in funding the startup phase of development through NCI Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and has secured a total of four Phase I awards (total 900k). The momentum for this non-dilutive early stage development continues to build and the company has recently received notice of an award from NCI for a 2 million Phase II SBIR project. “It takes time to secure funding. I am certain that our Faculty Innovators and I-CORPS experience was a big part of the success in securing the Phase II funding,” stated Schultz. “Particularly in the commercialization plan. The Iowa Small Business Development Center has also been a big help in securing Wellmark funds in the form of a loan that helped us through a valley between SBIR awards. We’re excited about the progress and momentum. This recent award puts us in a great position to attract the equity investments that we need for clinical trials that will lead to an eventual liquidity event,” said Schultz.