Laura Brod has trod an unusual path into biotech, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the company she leads is charting an unorthodox route for its ultrasmall precision-medicine technology. Several years ago Brod nearly entered the race for governor following a stint in the Legislature, but she changed course, serving as a regent for the University of Minnesota and becoming CEO of a Minnetonka company called GeneSegues Therapeutics, which was developing medical nanotechnology for cancer. Today Brod is also CEO of a spinoff company based in St. Cloud called RoverMed BioSciences, which is working to apply GeneSegues’ technology to a broader array of diseases.
Q: Tell me about your company’s technology.
A: RoverMed has developed a nanotechnology that aims to deliver the next generation of drugs. There are a number of therapeutics being developed by pharmaceutical companies that will never actually impact humans unless they have a precision-targeted delivery technology that is able to bring them directly to the disease cell. And that is what RoverMed does.
Q: The technology is really at the nano scale?
A: Our technology is actually 20 nanometers. One of the differentiators between our technology and other delivery technologies out on the market is the ultrasmall and crystallized design of our particles enables us to navigate a very challenging place called the body.
Q: So with cancer, for example, you can deliver a drug molecule that interacts with a specific RNA molecule in the way you intend?
A: Yes. In those cases, you are delivering proteins into a cell to change the dynamic of what’s going on in the cells. Cancer is one place where we have experience delivering proteins. We also can do work in gene therapy. Gene therapy is essentially getting into a cell and altering the makeup of that cell.
Q: Is it being used in humans?
A: We are still early-stage, in that we are in animals, not in humans. But we have three partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotech companies already.
Q: How many years before the first human patient is treated with this technology?
A: It depends on how quickly our partners move. Our partners actually lead that FDA process development, so we don’t have to reinvent that wheel.
Q: Do you work with pharma companies that compete with each other?
A: Theoretically, we can work with multiple pharma companies at the same time, because we are delivering different drugs. Until the time when they license the technology, we are able to work with multifaceted approaches.
Q: Do you see a day when one pharma company will have this technology alone?
A: You can slice and dice it through the licensing, but ultimately, if a pharmaceutical company wants to make sure that nobody else has access to this amazing technology that delivers the next generation of new drugs, they’d have to buy it.
Q: I’d be stunned if one of the pharma partners said, ‘Oh, this works great, and we’re going to let everyone on the market have it, too.’
A: So would I.
Q: Tell me about Blackbox Connect.
A: Blackbox Connect is really a residency program aimed at developing leadership within entrepreneurial companies, backed by Google for Entrepreneurs. It’s great for a company like ours to get access to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco-based capital network. And it’s also exciting, I think, and validating for our company to get chosen.
Q: Silicon Valley isn’t known for being friendly toward women. Just look at the recent Atlantic cover story, “Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” Do you think things are changing?
A: I think there’s absolutely a desire to see change in leveling the playing field, if you will. Having said that, women-led companies and women-invented technologies need to compete using good science, good data, and good business models. And we need to be able to win.
Q: Is your plan to stay in Minnesota?
A: Absolutely. Our lab operations are here [in St. Paul] but our business office is actually in St. Cloud. So we’ve got that rural-metro combination, and we actually do some work up at St. Cloud State, too. From the standpoint of human capital, quality of life, access to facilities, Minnesota is a great place to build a company, both in the metro and in some of the regional centers.
But from our company’s standpoint, access to capital is something that is lagging behind. If we can bring some successes and drive some homegrown successes, which we are seeing — all you have to do is look at the med device experience in this state to know that we can do that in pharma, we can do that in biotech.