La Salle professor out to ‘change the standard’ of cancer care

Name: David Zuzga

Title: Co-founder and CEO of BioDetego

Other title: Faculty member in the biology department at La Salle University

His company: BioDetego was founded three years ago to commercialize cancer diagnostic technology Zuzga developed with his mentor GianMario Pitari while a graduate student at Thomas Jefferson University. Pitari is the company’s other co-founder. “We didn’t known anything about business,” Zuzga said. “We went to the Small Business Development Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to learn, where we were next to one person who wanted to start a café and another who wanted to start a day care center. Then we did homework, homework, homework.”

What they are doing: Developing a biomarker diagnostic test based on a technology platform obtained from Jefferson initially to determine which colon cancer patients would be most likely to develop a recurrence and spread of their cancer. Such knowledge will enable physicians to direct chemotherapy to high-risk patients who would benefit from treatments — while preventing costly and harmful chemotherapy treatment to low-risk patients.

How it works: The company’s VASPfore biomarker test is designed to detect the presence and function of VASP [an acronym for vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein], a protein that acts as the direct cellular mechanism that drives the metastasis of cancer tumors. “VASP is the molecular transmission,” Zuzga said. “Our test determines whether the transmission is in gear or in neutral.” Those with the transmission in gear are those at high risk for a recurrence and most likely to benefit from chemotherapy.”

Other applications: The company believes the use of its biomarker test potentially can be expanded across many different types of cancer — including breast, lung and prostate cancers — and change the standard of care for a large spectrum of patients.

Status: A retrospective study of VASPfore in colon cancer patients is being conducted at the Mayo Clinic to validate the experimental test. Results are expected later this summer.

Fund raising: $150,000 to date from family and friends, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and BioAdvance. The company is now seeking to raise $2 million from outside investors and has had initial discussion with some venture capital firms. Zuzga said the funds will be used to transform BioDetego from a two-employee virtual company to one in “bricks and mortar” office space, most likely within the University City Science Center, that can begin hiring full-time staff.

On becoming an entrepreneur: Zuzga said becoming a college biology professor, not an entrepreneur, was always his career goal. “But when you have a chance to change the standard of care for cancer patients,” he said. “You have to do it.”