U.Va. Spin-out Holds Promise for New Cancer Therapy

April 9, 2007 -- What if cancer could be treated with a daily pill?  That is the innovative vision behind Tau Therapeutics, a development stage biotechnology company with roots at the University of Virginia.

Tau Therapeutics is a built on the revolutionary discovery of how to stop tumor cells from growing. U.Va. pathology professor and founder Lloyd Gray discovered how to inhibit cell growth by blocking a type of calcium channel, termed the T-type channel.  This novel target—dubbed “Cytostatic Checkpoint Therapy”—has significant implications because it will lead to “treating cancer in an entirely different way,” according to CEO Andrew Krouse.  “Tau is focused on maintenance therapy—which we believe is the future of cancer treatment,” he says.

Anti-cancer drug companies have traditionally focused on killing cancer cells.  During that process, healthy cells are also damaged and patients are subject to a host of negative and often debilitating side effects.  Founder Timothy Macdonald, U.Va. professor of chemistry, notes that the obvious preferred strategy would be to eradicate cancer.  However, years of research in anti-cancer drug development have come up short of a cure. “We’re forging a new path,” he says. “Let’s just stop the tumor cells from dividing and provide a meaningful increase in lifespan.” 

Tau’s business approach is to reposition a drug as an anti-cancer therapy that should have much lower side affects than conventional cancer treatments. “Our goal is to treat cancer like any other chronic disease with a once-a-day anti-cancer pill,” says Krouse.  “Tau’s goal is to help people with cancer to live longer, healthier lives.”

Tau Therapeutics is a member of the University of Virginia’s T100 Alumni Mentoring Program. T100 matches U.Va. alumni who are business experts with start-up companies that have origins at the University.  Alums then provide expertise and guidance to companies as they evolve from concept to commercialization. 

T100 is a Virginia Gateway initiative, based in the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.  Interested alumni are encouraged to inquire about mentorship opportunities. Faculty start-ups may request information about application procedures for the 2007-08 session.  Please contact Lianne Landers at lianne@virginia.edu or 434-243-2196 for more information.

Written by Melissa Maki, research communications coordinator for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.