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Student Analyzes Potential for a Startup's Drugs

Josh Lankin

Drug development is a risky endeavor, especially for a startup company. It requires large capital expenditures, waiting out long timelines and overcoming regulatory hurdles to bring a drug to market. Prioritizing and valuing which drugs to develop can make or break a company.

That’s why the Pennsylvania-based biopharmaceutical startup, SFA Therapeutics, brought in Josh Lankin when he was a student last year in the Katz School's Biotechnology Management and Entrepreneurship program to conduct an analysis of its efforts in developing breakthrough drugs for a variety of ailments.

“Josh did a great job on an interesting project,” said Dr. Ira Spector, CEO of SFA Therapeutics and a former drug developer with Wyeth, Pfizer, Allergan and ICON.

SFA Therapeutics is developing and commercializing drugs, he said, that have broad implications for the treatment of inflammatory diseases. The company is working on treatments for Hepatitis B, liver cancer, Pemphigus which causes blisters, psoriasis, and Uveitis, a form of eye inflammation.

Dr. Ira Spector of SFA Therapeutics

“We think we have a fundamental technology that applies to a broad range of diseases,” said Dr. Spector.

Dr. Rana Khan, director of the Biotechnology Management and Entrepreneurship program, said she created a partnership between Yeshiva University and the biotechnology industry to give students experience and to demonstrate the value of a Katz School degree. Students can earn credit by working on projects for companies, like SFA Therapeutics, as part of their final capstone course.

“The master’s program is a unique blend of science, management and entrepreneurship, and it gives our students the tools to sharpen their scientific knowledge and the opportunity to manage and create their own biotech companies,” she said.

Dr. Spector said he asked Lankin, who is now an associate consultant in Oncology and Specialty Therapeutics with Kantar Health, to use SFA Therapeutics’ “mechanism of action” to rank several diseases in order of priority for potential commercialization before his company goes to venture capitalists to ask for development funding. Lankin developed the methodology for ranking the potential diseases where the mechanism could be applied.

“Having a validated methodological approach to explain our choices and what our roadmap would look like was the purpose of Josh’s assignment,” he said. “He helped validate that our strategy is sound and that the diseases we’ve chosen make sense.”

The roadmap articulates a strategy for drug development given a host of factors, such as the competitive landscape, unmet medical need, potential value, market size, scientific potential, and time it would take to bring a drug to market. From a development strategy perspective, Lankin created filters to assess the merits of each of these potential indicators and a color-coded matrix that evaluated each criterion.

An oral drug for psoriasis, his analysis revealed, has the potential to be the most profitable for SFA Therapeutics. Psoriasis affects 120 million patients worldwide, or 2 to 3 percent of the total population, including 8 million Americans.

“That matrix of criteria he created for the roadmap showed that, yes, the development of psoriasis drugs made the best use of the company’s resources,” said Dr. Spector.

The Katz School of Science and Health is an academic powerhouse in the heart of New York City. It offers master's programs in five sectors that are redefining the economy: Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Biotech and Health, Digital Media, and Fintech. In the lab, classroom and clinic, we lead with kindness, integrity, generosity and a commitment to making the world safer, smarter and healthier.

Click here for information about the Bright Futures Scholarship Initiative that offers a total fixed tuition of $25,000 for science and technology master's degrees.