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April 11, 2022 Tech 25

2022 Tech 25: Encapsulate grows tumors outside the body to test chemotherapy effectiveness

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Armin Rad is the co-founder of Farmington-based biotech company Encapsulate.

Learning you or someone you love has cancer is devastating.

Learning your life-saving treatment rests on a process of trial and error is a cruel reality that Armin Rad is working to solve.

Rad is CEO and co-founder of Encapsulate and one of the driving forces behind the Farmington biotech’s patented approach to growing tumors outside the body.

The concept is that if Encapsulate can model the interaction of a patient’s tumor and a range of chemotherapy options, the results will better advise the oncologist’s decision on treatment and reduce false starts.

The facts and figures of the problem roll off Rad’s tongue:

• 40% of Americans will have cancer in their lifetime;

• 80% of initial chemotherapy regimens won’t work;

• The average cycle of chemotherapy lasts three months;

• The average cancer patient goes through 6.5 cycles of chemotherapy.

Hundreds of drugs have been approved for treating cancer, Rad explains, and it’s common for an oncologist to have a choice of 20 drugs to treat any specific cancer.

If Encapsulate can help point to the most effective option, the patient can skip months of toxic treatments and improve their chance of survival.

The team projects Encapsulate’s technology can cut 10 months off the average treatment time, saving more than $100,000 per patient, and ultimately saving thousands of lives.

The idea of testing tumor tissue outside the body isn’t new, but tumors behave differently when separated from the patient. Encapsulate’s tumor-on-a-chip approach better mimics a tumor’s in-body reaction to treatment.

It’s a concept that won Encapsulate the 2019 Technology in Space prize, which came with $500,000 and a spot for testing aboard the International Space Station.

“Testing the process in weightlessness on the International Space Station provides an opportunity to evaluate our work with microtumors in an environment that has proven in previous experiments to duplicate more precisely how cells behave inside the human body,” Rad told CTNext at the time.

In 2020, Encapsulate did a pilot test in conjunction with Hartford HealthCare to prove the accuracy of its work. It will start phase 2 testing soon and run through mid-2023 on the road to certification as a regional lab service for oncologists.

If all goes well, Encapsulate hopes to be certified as a national lab service by 2024.

Downstream, Rad envisions winning approval for a medical device — an automated platform — that would let companies like Quest and Labcorp collect samples and forward results to Encapsulate for analysis.

But all of that is expensive. Beyond the $500,000 in prize money, Encapsulate has raised just under $1 million from Connecticut Innovations, CTNext and other small investors. It is working on raising a new round of seed funding.

The innovation work was done while Rad and his co-founders — Leila Daneshmandi and Reza Amin — were at UConn, so the university owns the patents. As the innovators, the co-founders retain a third of the rights and are working under an exclusive licensing agreement.

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