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Team of undergraduates wins grant to develop a new path toward HPV treatment

Students in the Stanford ChEM-H Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Program have been awarded a grant to pursue their idea for a new biotechnology company.

Nearly 80 percent of people worldwide will contract human papillomavirus (HPV) by age 50, and infections can lead to cervical and other cancers. Now, a team of computer science and molecular and cellular biology undergraduate students has been awarded a $25,000 grant from Stanford ChEM-H to develop a novel treatment for HPV, a prevalent and dangerous virus. 

Yong-hun Kim, Christine Yang and Maria Suarez-Nieto give their winning pitch to an audience of Stanford faculty and biotechnology experts. Mark Smith

The team, comprising senior computer science major Yong-hun Kim, sophomore mathematical and computational science major Christine Yang and sophomore cellular and molecular biology major Maria Suarez-Nieto, came together as part of the ChEM-H Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Program. The program provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate students like Kim, Yang and Suarez-Nieto to translate chemistry and biology from the classroom to the clinic. After applying to the program in early 2018, four teams of three undergraduate students partnered with an industry mentor to identify an unmet clinical need and develop scientific and business plans.

The mentors, Dr. Adrian Gill, vice president of chemistry and CMC at Revolution Medicines, Dr. Zach Sweeney, head of therapeutic discovery at Denali Therapeutics, Dr. Cathy Tralau-Stewart, senior director of alliances at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and Dr. Asish Xavier, vice president of venture investments at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, worked with the teams for ten weeks to refine their strategy and design the perfect pitch. 

The work culminated in a final pitch night in which each team presented their pitch to the other teams, ChEM-H faculty and staff, and a panel of expert judges, including Dr. Maureen Hillenmeyer, founder and CEO of Hexagon Bio, Dr. Lusong Luo, head of discovery biology at BeiGene, Dr. Chris Walsh, a special advisor to ChEM-H, adjunct professor of chemistry and professor emeritus at Harvard University Medical School, and Dr. Petter Veiby, head of alliances & new ventures oncology at Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

Now that they’ve won, Kim, Yang and Suarez-Nieto will leverage their interdisciplinary skill set to begin preclinical development under the guidance of Dr. Mark Smith, head of the ChEM-H Medicinal Chemistry Knowledge Center, other industry experts and a scientific advisory board.

Read more about a previous winning team, who worked toward developing new treatments for antibiotic-resistant bacteria here.

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