Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

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Teamwork: The Backbone of EncepHeal Therapeutic’s Initial Success

Thursday, June 22, 2017 10:32 pm

I, along with an NC State undergraduate student, are the first two interns at EncepHeal Therapeutics. Despite their small and young team, this company has already made great progress since they pitched their business idea just a couple of years ago. Their smooth and seemingly effortless progression is largely due to the Wake Forest University-affiliated science and business advisors who serve as mentors to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Science Officer (CSO), both who are under the age of 35. Some may think it to be a disadvantage to work for such a small company, but I would argue against this. Being an intern for an organization with a team of less than 20 members brings exciting responsibility with involvement in a variety of tasks. There is also a lot of visibility and the opportunity to closely collaborate with the other employees who are experts in their respective field.

On a weekly basis we have both business and science meetings that we are required to attend. More or less for everything else that the company is involved in, we are just encouraged to be a part of those activities and events. I think that both us interns are just so excited to be a part of this opportunity that we don’t even think twice about whether we’re going to attend something. We want to be familiar with every angle of how the company operates. It’s fairly easy to desire to be involved in all operations when we work under the leadership of such an amazing management team. The CEO and CSO delegate and oversee all of our tasks, but everyone is always in communication through email, phone-in meetings, and Google Drive. I think the communication between members of the management team is a huge strength that has been prevalent since the first day I started this internship. What helps drive this communication is that all of the work is transparent, with everyone having access to information surrounding the business and science aspect of the business. It’s easy to notice how passionate everyone is about the potential of this company. This is partly reflected by the constant welcoming of opinions on every matter discussed, without having only one person domineering a discussion.

EncepHeal Therapeutics is very team-oriented. As I mentioned before, there are weekly business and science meetings. The CEO and CSO are always present at both of these, so that they’re familiar first-hand with every decision made. Since this is a relatively young company, the management team consists of business advisors with extensive experience in the entrepreneurship realm, as well as a Chief Research Officer who has over 30+ years of experience in biochemical neuropharmacology. They give their expertise advice and knowledge in the meetings, but first listen to what the CEO and CSO have to say so that they too can learn to be independent leaders. Shortly after the meetings take place, the respective officer will email the team with a follow-up of what was discussed and what needs to be done moving forward. Google Drive is a very effective means to keeping everyone up-to-date with past, current, and future work. On the Drive are presentations that were given in meetings, financially-related documents like which venture funds would be best to contact first and why, organizational documents such as prioritization of tasks for the next week, etc.

Every task seems to be done in a timely manner, and this is partly due to the fact that there is no set 9am-5pm work day. For example, the other week the CEO and CSO were waiting on a response from a Program Loan they wanted to apply to. They were contacted two days before the application due date, and the CEO was away on vacation at this time. The application was already started at this point, but the additional information necessary for submission required the CEO to spend his vacation time finishing it up. At a professional level where everyone is busy handling so many jobs, it can’t be expected that everyone is going to be very reliable. To be a successful leader in a company, especially at a young age, you really have to know how to prioritize and sacrifice!

Stay tuned for how EncepHeal Therapeutics got funding to start the company and what the process looks like to continually support the pipeline of biotechnology organizations.

 

EncepHeal Therapeutics-Week 1

Monday, June 12, 2017 8:06 pm

It is estimated that 2.2 million Americans regularly use cocaine. It would not be surprising if you knew someone, either directly or indirectly, who has or is struggling with cocaine dependency. However, despite the high prevalence of cocaine abuse, there is no effective FDA-approved therapeutic treatment. Surprising, right?!

Let me try to break down as easily as possible how cocaine works in the brain…

Normally when we consume or engage in something pleasurable (e.g. eating an oreo!), we get a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine from neurons, our brain cells. We have a transporter (DAT) that will take back this dopamine into the cell and normalize levels. Cocaine acts by binding to this transporter and blocking its function, leaving elevated levels of dopamine swimming around in our brain, which results in a heightened and lasting feeling of pleasure. With consistent use, the chemistry of our brain changes and what used to give us pleasure is now dampened, thus requiring the intake of cocaine just to feel “normal.” Cocaine abusers will get an insurmountable craving to obtain the drug. Think of someone you may know, maybe during college, who used Adderall (also a psychostimulant). They were more talkative, focused, and energized when taking the drug, but then afterwards they “crash” and feel sluggish, inattentive, etc. In addition to the craving, deficits in executive function, attention, and working memory are also driving factors behind the drive to continue cocaine use.

Modafinil, commonly known as Provigil, is a wakefulness-promoting agent used to treat narcolepsy and sleep apnea. It has recently been investigated as a treatment for cocaine dependence because it binds to the same transporter (DAT) in the brain but is not a stimulant, is not addictive, and has few to no side effects. However, promising results from clinical trials are only modest. This leaves researchers wondering if maybe the chemistry of modafinil can be modified in such a way to enhance its effect in the brain, while still excluding any potential addictive properties or side effects.

This summer I will be working with EncepHeal Therapeutics, a start-up biotech company that will be testing modafinil analogues for the potential treatment of cocaine addiction. I will learn everything that relates to the drug development pipeline, from animal research experiments to the clinical trials phase. Some of my responsibilities will involve research on the market assessment, financials, and competition of EncepHeal’s core business practices, shadowing animal experiments, analysis of data collected, presenting pertinent scientific literature, and exploring ways to expand on the company’s mission to provide a comprehensive treatment for substance abuse. I hope to learn about the roles of each member in the company, the financial work required to start up and maintain a biotech company, and the steps involved in the drug development pipeline.

Potential cocaine abuse treatment coming your way! Stay tuned to learn what I learn.

 

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