The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Forbes and Van Dessel Win $2,500 in Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center Business Pitch Competition

A petri dish used to test programmed bacteria that deliver anticancer treatment directly to tumors

The UMass News Office reports that Ernest Pharmaceuticals, a startup venture co-founded by Professor Neil St. John Forbes of the Chemical Engineering Department and based in UMass Amherst’s Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS), is one of four companies each to win $2,500 from the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC) in a business pitch poster competition in Boston. Forbes founded the company with current Ernest Pharmaceuticals CEO and bioengineer Nele Van Dessel. The MTTC award recognizes the groundbreaking young biotech firm for its research on programmed bacteria that deliver anticancer treatment to tumors.

Forbes named the company after his grandfather Ernest, who died of prostate cancer.

According to the News Office, Van Dessel presented the poster at MTTC’s 12th annual Massachusetts Life Sciences Innovation Day; the company was one among 30 vying for four prizes. She says she and co-founder Forbes believe the company’s association with IALS at UMass Amherst has been a crucial factor in its steady success.

Van Dessel, who earned a Ph.D. in bioengineering at home in Belgium, came to UMass Amherst looking specifically for Forbes after she read all his published papers on what she calls his unconventional but effective use of Salmonella bacteria to deliver cancer-busting compounds to kill metastatic breast cancer tumors from inside.

Forbes has been working since about 2002 to engineer what he has called “super-safe Salmonella bacteria” to act as Trojan Horses and deliver cancer-killing agents directly into tumors. His Salmonella vectors are designed to steal into cancer tumors, interrupt essential cell processes there, destroy cancer cells, eliminate cancer stems cells, reduce tumor volume, and block the formation of metastases.

Forbes has been working on non-pathogenic Salmonella bacteria that can use their own self-propulsion system to venture deep into tumors and deliver cancer-destroying agents, all without causing the vicious side effects of many chemotherapy treatments. (September 2019)


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