I first met Karen Wurster, CEO of Adipo Therapeutics, a year ago when she first pitched the VisionTech Screening Committee. The update at the Innovation Showcase in August 2022 was impressive and it was evident that progress had been made. Adipo, a pre-clinical biotech startup out of Purdue, was one of 21 companies vying for the top prize of $10,000. The field was very competitive, but Karen’s pitch was compelling. Adipo won first place for its novel therapeutic approach of turning “bad” white fat cells to “good” fat cells to treat people with type 2 diabetes and obesity. Intrigued, I invited Karen to meet with the VisionTech Angels Screening Committee for an update. The group was impressed with Adipo and Karen, and we invited her to present at our October 27th virtual pitch events. Here’s a preview.
BP: You have dedicated a large part of your career to diabetes therapeutics. Tell me about it.
KW: I have 25 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry with Eli Lilly, most of it dedicated to the development and launch of diabetes treatments. In all, I was involved in launching more than 10 diabetes products. My roles included new product planning, market analytics, global brand management, and commercialization. This experience really prepared me for the CEO role at Adipo where I’m focused on developing a clear path to commercialization for the technology and cultivating potential collaborators and acquisition partners.
BP: Tell me about Adipo and the issue you’re addressing
KW: Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is an epidemic in the United States and other parts of the world. By 2025, 37 million Americans will be diagnosed with T2D. If not well managed, T2D can reduce life expectancy by eight years. This is due to the complications of diabetes and comorbidities like heart disease. While there are oral and injectable treatments available, Adipo’s unique approach of using the body’s own fat to increase energy expenditure has the potential to bring a new treatment that could be used alone or in combination with existing treatments.
BP: Using fat to fight diabetes?
KW: Absolutely. Our bodies have two types of fat cells, technically called adipose tissue. White fats cells make up the vast majority of fat and store excess calories in the fat. Brown fat cells act very differently, burning excess calories and lipids, increasing energy expenditure and reducing the risk of T2D and heart disease. Higher levels of brown fat are correlated with younger, leaner adults with good glucose control. So we asked the question: what if we could turn those white cells to brown as a way to get T2D under control? That led to the develop of a platform that harnesses the power of brown fat cells. This is done by injecting Notch-inhibiting nanoparticles into the fat just below the skin. In mouse studies, we have demonstrated weekly treatments result in reducing blood glucose levels and weight loss without changing caloric intake.
BP: Is this different from other leading T2D treatments?
KW: Very much so. Our therapeutic acts directly on fat cells, increasing energy expenditure and improving insulin resistance through the browning of these cells. The other important advantage is due to the localized injection there is limited bio-distribution within the body. The nanoparticles pretty much stay where they are injected, reducing the likelihood of side effects.
BP: I know you’re pre-clinical, but have you talked to doctors about this?
KW: Yes, and we’re already generating excitement. They like that it’s easy to administer, has low side effects, and works in a completely new way that is complementary to the treatments they are already using.
BP: How big is the market you’re targeting?
KW: The U.S. T2D treatment market is $88 billion. Our ideal patient is no longer in control of their diabetes with oral medications and is looking at starting injections. We estimate this market to be a $1.7 billion market.
BP: What kind of IP protection do you have?
KW: We currently have three patents that we have licensed from Purdue and provide protection in the United States, China and European Union. We have the option of licensing more.
BP: What round is this and what’s your planned use of funds?
KW: Our initial seed round raised a little over $2 million, which we used to establish our own lab, complete initial safety studies and our first meeting with the FDA. This additional raise of $800,000 will be used to de-risk our technology and position us for a much larger Series A round. Most importantly, we will demonstrate proof of concept in isolated human fat cells, conduct pre-clinical safety and seek additional FDA feedback prior to our IND. We have already been in discussions with a potential Series A investor who has confirmed completing these milestones would encourage an investment.
BP: That’s a fairly small raise. Do you have other funding?
KW: We have applied for grants with the U.S Department of Defense and a National Institutes of Health SBIR Phase 2. If these are approved, that would bring in $6 million in non-diluted funding. We have also received Indiana Innovation grants.
BP: Why should VisionTech Angels invest in Adipo?
KW: First, we have an experienced, high functioning leadership team. Our founder and president, Dr. Meng Deng, is an assistant professor of Biological Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Materials Engineering at Purdue and our technology stems from his 15 plus years of experience developing biomaterials-based translational technologies for cell engineering, tissue engineering and drug delivery. Like me, our vice president of operations, Roger Miller, has deep experience in pharma and biotech start-ups, including leadership roles in R&D, manufacturing and corporate business development. We are following a very realistic, capital preserving plan. Lastly, we are confident that our technology, which harnesses the intrinsic power of brown fat, will be of high interest to the leading diabetes companies and mean a world of difference for those living with T2D.
VisionTech Angels’ October Pitch Events will be virtual on Thursday, October 27 at Noon and at 6 p.m. ET. Pitch events are open to our members and accredited investors interested in joining our group. To register, check your email for an invitation, go to our Events page where you’ll find the RSVP links, or email Ben Pidgeon at email@example.com