Immuno-oncology Startup Finds a Home at College

When Nicholas Nicolaides decided to part ways with the company he co-founded two decades ago and launch another startup, one of his first tasks was finding lab space.

He considered the University City Science Center, the place where he co-founded Morphotek in 1999, but ended up instead becoming the first biotech startup to set up shop at his alma mater.

“I was talking to a professor [Michael P. McCann] at St. Joseph’s University and he suggested setting up a lab there,” said Nicolaides, who graduated from the St. Joseph’s with a degree in biology. “He said St. Joe’s was looking for a way to differentiate itself.… If we would teach students about translational medicine he could offer us free lab space.”

The result is Navrogen, a biotech company Nicolaides co-founded with his former Morphotek colleague Luigi Grasso. Nicolaides is the company’s president and CEO; Grasso is its senior vice president and chief scientific officer.

Navrogen is developing cancer treatments that suppress the ability of tumor cells to inhibit a person’s cancer-fighting humoral immune system. It occupies a small office on the first floor of St. Joe’s Science Center and lab space on the third floor. The company raised $2.5 million in seed capital, in the form of convertible notes, from a group of angel investors along with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

For both men, launching a startup is a return to their roots. “We were both executives (at Morphotek), but were scientists by training,” Nicolaides said. Both enjoy the time they spend teaching.

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