2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: HOPO Therapeutics, U.C. Berkeley (Haas)

HOPO Therapeutics

University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

Industry: Biotechnology / Pharmaceuticals

Founding Student Name(s): Hannah Weber

Brief Description of Solution: HOPO Therapeutics is developing groundbreaking, orally-available medicines for the treatment and prevention of heavy metal exposure. Our focus areas include countermeasures for radiological threats, improved safety of imaging agents and nuclear medicines, and treatments for the 800M+ children living with lead poisoning around the world.

Funding Dollars: Seed round ongoing

What led you to launch this venture?  Over the last decade, our co-founders, Rebecca Abergel and Julian Rees, have led an incredible research effort at Berkeley National Lab to develop our technology and lead drug compound, HOPO-101.

We launched HOPO Therapeutics as a spin-out venture after realizing the incredible global impact this technology could have on patients suffering from heavy metal poisoning. Lead poisoning affects over 1 billion people, comparable to Malaria or HIV, but there has been no innovation in treatment in decades. With 99% of all patients left without any available treatment, most living in low-and middle-income countries, we feel driven to provide a safe and affordable solution.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? I’m thrilled to say that our Phase 1 safety trial has been approved to begin later this year. Testing for safety in humans is an exciting milestone that brings us one step closer to providing this treatment to people exposed to heavy metal, including kids who are currently suffering from psychological and physical effects of lead poisoning. Along the way, we have been recognized and mentored by some of the best advisory programs in the industry, including California Life Sciences FAST program and Creative Destruction Lab’s Advanced Therapies program. We have also been awarded a grant from a mission-focused project from a pharmaceutical company.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Growing our venture within the Berkeley ecosystem has been game-changing for us as entrepreneurs. We have been able to tap into the wide variety of resources provided by Berkeley Skydeck, the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Center, and the incredible group of founders that exist within my class at Haas. Pursuing a dual MBA/MPH degree has allowed me to have one foot in the entrepreneurial support network at Haas, and the other in the School of Public Health, where experts in environmental health, drug development, and access to medicine have helped us shape our approach for the benefit of patients across the world.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? As someone who feels strongly drawn to improve global health through innovation in medicine, I have long been inspired by Paul Farmer and his entrepreneurial journey as the founder of Partners in Health. He succeeded in his vision to show that it was possible to improve delivery systems and pharmaceutical treatment access in order to drastically reduce rates of childhood diseases. Aside from being an international inspiration for his work in public health, Farmer was a creative and resourceful founder who believed he could build an organization that broke the typical molds of accessing treatment. I am motivated to bring the same creativity and global-health focused mission in the shaping of our company.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Haas has provided me with so many opportunities to push our company’s strategy and planning forward from within the classroom. Jeff Ford’s classes, Life Sciences Marketing and Commercializing Biotech & Pharma, have been instrumental in helping to design and formulate the right financial models for HOPO, as well as understand the best strategy for successfully reaching the patients most in need.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Kim MacPherson, an incredible Haas professor and the director of the dual MBA/MPH program, has been a champion of HOPO along the way. As I dove into shaping our global access strategy, Kim encouraged me to explore how HOPO can both do well and do good. In her Healthcare Strategy class, Kim mentored our team of 4 students assess possible commercialization models that would allow HOPO to reach low- and middle-income markets in a sustainable and successful way. We are using these learnings to try and forge an equitable market access model, where medicines are designed to reach every patient, regardless of where they live.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? HOPO’s success to date is directly related to resources that the Berkeley and greater Bay Area startup ecosystem has to offer. Julian (our CEO) and I conducted weeks of customer discovery for HOPO within a a Bay Area entrepreneurship program called NSF I-Corps, as well as several months’ worth of advising through the California Life Sciences FAST program. We are excited to be working with Berkeley-based Venture Funds to continue our fundraising, and have found their expertise to be instrumental to our development. As we grow our team, we have been proud to host and mentor several interns through Berkeley Skydeck, who have all helped us better define our market. With their support, we have created relationships with pediatricians, researchers, and non-profits across the world, including India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines, to understand the massive burden of heavy metal poisoning in these locations.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? I can very clearly envision a world where HOPO has built a new model for access to medicines. We see ourselves as a global health company, and are aiming to create novel, affordable medicines that will finally make heavy metal exposure treatable. As metal pollution increases, we want to create a world where living in older housing, or next to an airfield, or near a recycling plant does not predetermine poor health or intelligence outcomes. Our long-term goal is for HOPO to be at the intersection of breakthrough therapies and equitable, accessible healthcare.


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