Using a screening platform based on real, live, human brain tissue, Therapevo’s goal is to fill the gap between research and medical testing of new therapeutic strategies. We spoke with Paul Brennan and Estefania Esposito, two of Therapevo’s three co-founders, about the individual routes that led them to collaborating, their solution to making pre-clinical research on brain tumours easier, and how the DDE programme played a role in their journey to growing this idea into a business.

Cancer research technology
Challenging, motivational, supportive
Provide an alternative testing method for pre-clinical trials for brain cancer drugs, speeding up the development process for treatments
Venture Builder Incubator
Being introduced to a network of Venture Builder cohorts past and present was invaluable. They all had different backgrounds, and even when they had similar backgrounds, they all added something: an experience, an idea or an opinion.”

What led you to setting up Therapevo? 

Estefania: I’m now at the end of my PhD in cancer research at the University of Edinburgh. My field is in neuro-oncology, which means I work on brain tumours. My aim has been to find new targets to understand how to, if possible, develop new treatments for a specific type of brain tumour, called glioblastoma multiforme.

Paul: Estefania and I identified this problem independently and from different perspectives. I’m a consultant neurosurgeon, but also a clinician. My cancer biology PhD was all about modelling in brain tumours and drug discovery. And you don’t have to do that for too long before you realise that there’s a block, where you cannot translate ideas into the clinical field.

stefania: It’s very difficult to carry out pre-clinical research, because you can only do so on rodent brains – and rodent and human brains are extremely different. To translate our ideas and our results into preclinical research, we needed a way to fill this gap.

What real-world challenge do you want to address?

Estefania: We want to give patients and their families hope that there’s a chance for survival and increased wellbeing after a brain cancer diagnosis by speeding up the process for developing new drugs. Glioblastoma is the most common brain tumour, but the last treatment was developed over 15 years ago.

Paul: We’re trying to close the gap between clinical failure and pre-clinical success. We’re trying to work out how we get all those clever ideas from the laboratory into the clinic. And the answer as we see it, is modelling in humans rather than in animals.

What success have you seen so far?

Estefania: We are gathering data that allows us to determine that the prototype is almost ready. We already have results that guarantee it’s working and has great potential.

Paul: We’ve had a lot of positive feedback, which can be hard to come by in our field. We can’t know if we’re going to cure cancer quicker than anyone else, but I think we can inform those decisions much better. We believe that with that data, we can then get closer to finding a cure.

What role has the Venture Builder Incubator and the UK-wide, cross sector peer group you met there played in supporting your entrepreneurial journey so far?

Estefania: When I joined the Incubator, I was right at the start of my journey. It has been great to network with the cohort who were all at different stages and from different backgrounds - everyone had something to add, whether that be an experience, an idea or an opinion. It’s been great!

Those connections, combined with the sessions, gave us all the tools we needed to start and to go ahead on our own. That said, the Venture Builder team has continued to support us, even after our time on the programme finished.

Running a start-up can be looked at as another facet to problem-solving. I solve problems in the clinic, I solve problems in the lab, but solving problems in business is different - and there’s strength in learning from those varying approaches.”

What is next for Therapevo?

Estefania: We hope to finish optimising the prototype, which includes the model, all the science behind it, and gathering all the data that supports our idea. Then it will be time to start looking for investment and grants to expand our team of researchers.

Paul: It’s just about getting momentum going, which we’re beginning to do. If by the end of the year we can be testing some compounds for an organisation, that would be fantastic. It’s ambitious but I think we could, that’s what we’re working towards.

Get in touch!

Want to learn more about Therapevo, click below to head to their LinkedIn.