1. How did TOLREMO start?
TOLREMO was the natural continuation and clinical implementation of research that we performed during my PhD and Postdoc at ETH Zurich. At ETH we studied how cancer cells changed their molecular behaviour when they were exposed to cancer drugs. We discovered that certain of these behavioural changes were actually the first steps towards the cancer cells becoming resistant to therapies. Given that drug-resistant cancers are a major cause of death in the clinic, we decided to use our discoveries to develop a solution that would improve current cancer therapies and improve patient survival. This is when TOLREMO was born. I founded the company in 2017 together with my PhD supervisor Prof. Wilhelm Krek, Prof. Karl-Heinz Altmann (ETH professor of chemistry and former Global Head of Chemistry at Novartis), Emmanuel Savioz (a finance expert) and Dr. Isaac Kobrin (the former Chief Medical Officer at Actelion). It has been my baby ever since.
2. Could you give us a short overview of TOLREMO?
We are pre-clinical stage biotechnology company that pursues a novel approach to preventing cancer drug resistance and treating aggressive tumors. We have our biology laboratories here in Muttenz where we employ 12 wonderful people. When it comes to chemistry development, all the magic happens in the Netherlands where we employ an additional 3 – 10 contract chemists depending on our needs. Together, use a proprietary technology platform to develop small molecule inhibitors that target the faulty behaviour in cancer cells that drives tumor growth and leads to therapy resistance. The advantage of this approach is that our therapies are believed to work in a variety of cancers even if they don’t have a targetable mutated protein that drives the cancer. Our therapies act much more broadly (on the transcriptome) and simply shut off the aggressive behaviour of cancer cells. We plan to bring our first drug candidate into the clinic by 2022.
3. What makes TOLREMO future-oriented?
Tumors are as diverse as the patients who suffer from them. In the clinic we have learned that for the most efficient therapies we need to take this diversity into account. The first wave of personalized cancer therapies focused on very specific mutated proteins that were known to cause cancer. By identifying the mutation in a tumor and treating a patient with a cancer drug that specifically inhibits the mutated protein, major advances have been made. However, most patients only profit from these therapies for a limited time until their tumors grow back. Also, many cancers are not caused by such a singular mutated protein. Or they are but we do not have drugs to inhibit them.
In the future, we will look beyond single mutated proteins and approach cancers much more holistically. How does this cancer look on a broader molecular level? How does it adapt to therapy? How do the single cancer cells in the tumor differ from each other? How does the tumor interact with the surrounding tissue? This is exactly where our therapies come into play. By changing specific behavioural features of cancers, we will be part of a second, much more holistic wave of personalized cancer therapies that will hopefully bring about longer lasting therapeutic effects and better lives for cancer patients.
4. TOLREMO is a company based in Basel. What do you particularly appreciate about this region?
Coming from Zurich, I am probably not supposed to say this, but Basel is great! The people, the city, the Rhine, the proximity to Germany and France make it a wonderful, culturally very diverse region. Real mountains are relatively far away and I wouldn’t say no to a lake, but apart from that I really love living in Basel.
Also, the Basel region is one of the most important pharmaceutical hubs in the world. The region is home to many national and international pharma and biotech companies. There is therefore a lot of talent TOLREMO can profit from. It’s really one of the best places for us to be!