Dr. Kate Rittenhouse-Olson fights for a cure in her sister Robin’s memorY
Pre-Seed Workshop alumna Dr. Kate Rittenhouse-Olson (pictured right) is changing the world in her sister Robin’s memory. At age 26, Robin was diagnosed with breast cancer and sadly died 5 years later at 31. Kate was a doctoral student at the time. Inspired by the difference Robin had made in the lives of others, Kate made it her mission to fight breast cancer. She established a company to drive that mission forward and memorialized her sister in its name: For-Robin, Inc.
After years of hard work, Kate and her team (pictured right) are currently working with an antibody that has the potential to kill tumor cells quickly and safely in humans. The antibody is effective against about 80% of breast cancers and has been shown to affect other types of cancer as well. The product needs to go through more layers of testing before it can be brought to market, but Kate said pharmaceutical companies are already interested. “If we have enough money,” she told us, “we could move to trials in humans in about three years.”
Attending Pre-Seed Workshop helped Kate identify For Robin’s most likely funding sources. She attended the workshop in June 2011 at University of Buffalo, where she has been employed for nearly 22 years. We spoke with her via phone about how the workshop made a difference for her company. “I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur without you guys,” Kate laughed. “I had something that I thought could help people, but I needed to know the best way to get started.” Because her product isn’t ready to go to market, Kate has had to look beyond individual investors and toward a different source of funding: grants.
In May 2013, For Robin was awarded an STTR National Cancer Institute Phase I grant for $282,000, as well as a supplement of $128,000. The company was also awarded $50,000 in July 2013 from the Bruce Holm Memorial Catalyst Fund at University of Buffalo. In addition to these monies, Kate has received hands-on support from the University’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer, and Economic Outreach (STOR) as well as the SUNY Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program. This included support to attend the BIO International Convention, which Kate says has helped her network with pharmaceutical companies.
The initial knowledge and support network from PSW have proven to be highly beneficial over the years. “I continue to learn what pharmaceutical companies want to see in these antibodies. It helps me know what will make us marketable for investors.” Kate credits PSW with helping her realize that her product had value. “People at the workshop were really interested,” she said. “The reactions of the other participants and coaches showed me that I wasn’t the only person who thought it was worth something.”
When asked if there was anything else she would like to tell us, Kate said “I have a great team.” She credited Susan Morey, Julia Abdullah, Jing Ying Eng, Loukia Karacosta, Taylor Chrisikos, Sally Quataert, James Olson, and others in her lab as being instrumental in For Robin’s growth. “We’re not motivated by a need to sell,” Kate said. “We’re trying to make a difference.”
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