One of the most important factors affecting the success of an innovation and startup company is timing. Of course, there also needs to be a unique idea, experienced team, adequate funding and so on. But you can still miss out on everything, if you go to market too early or too late.
Tenboron Ltd, a pharmaceutical company that has developed a new novel boron carrier for head and neck cancers to be used in BNCT treatments, has just opened their 1.5M€ funding round with us at just the right time. Tenboron’s innovation is based on the already proven idea of neutron capture which was developed in the 1930s. It is a nuclear physical phenomenon in which a neutron with appropriate velocity moves in the vicinity of certain elements. These elements can then capture the neutron, resulting in a nuclear reaction.
How does this then relate to cancer, in particular its treatment? Nuclear reactions bring to mind energy production or perhaps the Cold War, not medicine. However, it is literally at the heart of Tenboron’s innovation. Another important component for Tenboron is elemental boron, more specifically, its isotope 10, which is injected with the carrier into the cancerous tumor. When the same tumor is then irradiated with neutrons, the boron captures them and produces very local nuclear reactions. As a result, the reactions destroy the cancerous tumor.
Importance of timing
Returning to timing, why then is Tenboron’s moment right now? There are two important reasons: firstly, Tenboron has meticulously refined the carrier. Each molecule has more than a 1000-fold of Boron 10 compared to previous solutions. Due to the high boron content, only about 10 milliliters of the carrier is required. Therefore, it can be injected directly into the tumor. In previous solutions, the carrier was needed in liter quantities and transferred to the tumor through hours of infusion therapy. The boron carrier injected into the tumor also creates a high concentration contrast between the cancerous tumor and the surrounding healthy tissue. Thus, in the case of irradiation, healthy cells are not destroyed.
The second reason is related to the neutrons needed to create a nuclear reaction. Neutrons are not available in your nearby store and are not even found in well-equipped hospitals. No, they require either a nuclear reactor or a particle accelerator. VTT had a nuclear reactor in Otaniemi, which was utilized for similar cancer treatments with very good results. However, Boneca, who operated the treatment station, had to file for bankruptcy and shut down the reactor.
Now, the Helsinki University Hospital in Meilahti has just completed a particle accelerator meant for medical use, which will be used to produce the needed neutrons for the BNCT treatment. Not only does the accelerator consume less energy, but it is also more reliable than competitor solutions. Tenboron is due to launch clinical patient trials in H2 of this year and will start utilizing the accelerator in 2020. Having started from theoretical research on neutron capture in the 1930s, to now the treatment being used in practice, there is clear potential of beginning a new era of cancer treatment.
That is why we are investing 200,000€ into the companies future and welcome co-investor to join us!
Written by: Santtu Toivonen
About Innovestor: Innovestor is a 2014 founded Nordic startup venture capital investor and financial services company, with the largest private growth company portfolio in the Nordics. We manage two Venture Capital funds and actively make direct investments into early-stage technology driven startups. Unlike any other VC in Finland, we also operate an online Co-investment Platform, through which private investors can invest together with us into our pre-vetted startups. To date, we have invested around 130 million euros and have roughly 500 co-investors. Additionally, through our strategic ownership in Kasvun Roihu, we operate Finlands largest pro-bono growth sparring competition Kasvu Open and Grow to Market acceleration programs for founders and partners. We have offices in Helsinki (HQ), Jyväskylä, Stockholm and Moscow.