WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) announced on Wednesday that Torigen Pharmaceuticals, a startup focused on providing personalized cancer immunotherapies to the veterinary market, has been named “Murphy’s Innovator of the Month.” Torigen creates personalized cancer vaccines for the 8 million companion animals that are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States.
“Torigen is proof that Connecticut is a destination for innovation, and that our state will continue to do a lot of good in the world. Torigen is using cutting-edge research and data to ultimately save lives of pets who play such an important role in many people’s lives.” said Murphy.
“For years, I knew I wanted to marry the scientific and business worlds. Connecticut gave me the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between these fields, creating endless entrepreneurial opportunities. Torigen wouldn’t be where it is today without the financial support of Connecticut. The funding we have received to date goes to help grow the business, form strategic partnerships and collaborations, and helps move the needle for Connecticut and our company,” said Ashley Kalinauskas, Founder and CEO of Torigen Pharmaceuticals.
Kalinauskas began conducting this research with her professor Dr. Mark Suckow for her thesis at the University of Notre Dame. Her professor’s data showed efficacy in rodent models for prostate cancer, ovarian, mammary and melanoma tumors that utilized a portion of the patient's own tumors cells as the backbone antigenic carrier for the vaccine. Realizing that over 50% of all dogs over the age of 10 die from cancer, the researchers founded that they had a sustainable business model if they could provide a safe, effective and affordable treatment option in the veterinary market. After a veterinarian surgically excises a tumor, a portion of the primary mass is sent to their laboratories where they create the multi-dose vaccine that utilizes the tumor cells as an antigenic backbone and combines the cells with an innovative CD8+ T-Cell carrier adjuvant. This approach allows for a variety of tumor associated antigens to be presented back to the immune system to potentiate a response that hopefully prevents the tumor from recurring or further metastasizing.
It wasn’t until the Vernon native moved back to Connecticut that the business really took off. What started off as a thesis in 2012 has turned into a successful business. Since its founding in Farmington in 2016, Torigen has treated over 500 dogs and cats, resulting in the company raising $3.1 million. Torigen employs around 10 people, including two interns. The company’s labs are located at UConn’s Technology Incubation Program and has backing from angel groups and Connecticut Innovation. Last year, Torigen was named 2018 Animal Health Innovator of the Year and Ashley was named Connecticut’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
Murphy believes entrepreneurship and innovation are the building blocks for a strong economy. In the U.S. Senate, he has introduced two bipartisan pieces of legislation to incentivize angel investors to put more money into startup companies – the Angel Tax Credit Act and the Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act. Startup companies create an average of 2 million jobs each year.