Metastatic Melanoma research start-up receives $2 million grant

Viewpoint Wins the Iowa SBIR Showcase Phase II Pitch Competition. Photo:

The University of Iowa start-up company Viewpoint Molecular Targeting LLC received a $2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute in September for further pre-clinical research on a treatment for metastatic melanoma.

This is not the first grant that Viewpoint has received for its research. It also received a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contract for $900,000 from the cancer institute. In addition, it has received funding from Iowa Economic Development Authority Funds, Innovation Iowa Corporation Matching Funds, and contracts with pharmaceutical companies.

The object of all this money is primarily a new radiopharmaceutical called VMT-01, an injectable, radioactive drug that travels through the human body and searches for distinct characteristics of melanoma cells to find and kill without harming other parts of the body.

Viewpoint plans to begin clinical trials for VMT-01 in two years.

“Patients can undergo low-risk, noninvasive screenings to identify, locate, and quantify their melanoma,” Chief Science Officer Michael Schultz said.

Melanoma, one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States, can be caught early and tumors can be excised through surgery. When it spreads, however, it becomes metastatic and much more difficult to deal with.

The $2 million grant, called the Phase II SBIR grant, will be used to further develop VMT-01 and prepare it for actual clinical testing.

RELATED: Iowa and Mayo Clinic receive $12.4 million grant renewal for lymphoma research

“The technology is sort of in a gray area,” Schultz said. “Promising enough to attract funding but not actual capital from bigger pharmaceutical companies.”

Schultz and Chief Medical Officer Frances Johnson are both faculty members in the UI Carver College of Medicine.

In addition, Viewpoint’s lead engineer is Edwin Sagastume, a recent graduate from the UI College of Engineering.

“I think my entrepreneurial classes paid off,” he said. “Working for a start-up has been a totally different ball game than the other internships I’ve been a part of.”

Sagastume has interned with Viewpoint Molecular Targeting since early 2016 and now works for it full-time. He said as a start-up company, Viewpoint allows for different kinds of experiences.

“Everybody needs to do a little bit of everything,” Sagatsume said. “It’s different, being able to work directly with the founders and develop relationships with everyone, we’re a small group dedicated to our mission.”

The small Iowa firm has also gained attention elsewhere. The World Molecular Imaging Society invited Schultz to give a talk in Philadelphia on Sept. 15, and Viewpoint will present a lecture at the World Melanoma Research Society in Australia on Oct. 18.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to be a part of something so meaningful,” Sagatsume said. “This grant really validates our potential success.”

According to Viewpoint Molecular’s website, the company has other projects further down the line.

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