2021 Winner: Outstanding Woman in Innovation sponsored by TSGI Corporation
Dr. Deborah Kurrasch helps children with pediatric epilepsy and the broader field of brain disorders.
Dr. Kurrasch’s lab developed a novel drug screening platform designed to uncover therapies with unexpected mechanisms of action, with their lead program focu
sed on pediatric epileptic encephalopathies (EEs) – the rare genetic epilepsies that often represent the worst of the worst. Drugs with new mechanisms of action are required for these EE
s, but their discovery has been hindered by a poor understanding of underlying biology against which drug discovery programs could be targeted, thereby leaving these epileptic children (and their families) to suffer without reprieve.
Dr. Kurrasch sought to help these children by creating platform technology that can reveal new druggable targets that can kick-start drug development programs. Over the past five years, her team has: established, validated, and received a patent on their platform technology; established a proof-of-principle program that led to the identification of a protein target that when inhibited achieves seizure-freedom in a rodent model of an EE; launched a company (Path Therapeutics Inc.) that is conducting preclinical studies on a novel anti-seizure drug developed by the team. Their immediate goal is to start first-in-human clinical trials in late 2022. Their long-term goal is to apply this platform technology across a myriad of brain disorders for which efficacious drugs are desperately needed.
The overall impact and benefits to STEM are two-fold.
Firstly, the technical advancement of the platform brings innovation to the broader field of drug discovery. This is the first team to suggest measuring cellular homeostasis for drug screening and then develop the tools to capture ‘cellular disease burden’ in a quantifiable and productive manner. Their goal is to push pharmaceutical companies to look beyond trending hypotheses and to trust cellular complexities to guide their drug discovery programs.
Secondly, their path of fits and starts can serve as a role-model to STEM trainees interested in commercializing their academic findings. Their successes can empower others to embrace ambition, accept defeats, and ultimately continue to push forward despite the roadblocks.
“One of the biggest challenges to biotech success is convincing investors to believe in your work. This is particularly difficult for women entrepreneurs. Dr. Kurrasch is one of an elite group of female scientists and/or academics that have ventured into the translation and commercialization realm. She has raised $3 million in private equity and establish partnerships. She brings her science to life for the novice investor. I expect she will be a star in biotechnology in the future.”
Denise D. Belsham, Ph.D.
Professor of Physiology, Medicine, OB/Gyn
University of Toronto
President, Pan American Neuroendocrine Society