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How to Level Up – met UPyTher

Part of a triptych of interviews with special startups.


UPyTher (pronounced 'Jupiter') is a contraction of UPy, a special chemical compound and the word therapeutics. We speak with Geert van Almen, CEO of this special startup, which aims to effectively treat peritoneal cancer in the abdominal cavity with an innovative gel.

During the immensely successful 'Level Up' event, investors, startups and people from the high-tech sector of the Brainport region and Brabant came together to inspire each other and expand their network. In this triptych, we speak with three extraordinary startups that made their pitch to possibly go a  'Level up'.


Hi Geert, can you tell a bit about the origins of your startup?

Of course. I'm originally a health scientist myself and got my PhD from Maastricht University. I was interested in business development and that's how I ended up at a group developing new biomedical materials at TU/e. There they had the technical knowledge but lacked medically and biologically trained researchers, so that's how I came to be around. Together with Patricia Dankers and Peter-Paul Fransen, I performed research on drug delivery with those earlier mentioned biomedical materials. We came in contact with a doctor at the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven, specializing in peritoneal cancer, who was looking for a way to allow chemotherapy to be present in the peritoneal cavity longer, after it had been applied there.


Because that method didn't exist yet?

That's right. Several frequently occurring types of cancer are notorious for the risk of spreading to the abdominal cavity, and that's just bad news. We have known for more than 30 years that many patients die from these metastases. However, there is not much that can be done about it, nor is this form of cancer registered well. The reason it is poorly treatable is partly because the cancer cells in the peritoneum have a limited response to traditional chemotherapy given through the blood and partly because the same chemotherapy does not remain in the peritoneal cavity long enough after a local flush to have any real effect. The chemotherapies currently used for this purpose tend to be rapidly absorbed into the blood and therefore have a limited effect in the abdominal cavity. There are now no drugs developed specifically for use in the abdominal cavity.

'The registration of peritoneal cancer leaves much to be desired because it often develops after metastasis of another cancer. In colon cancer, the percentage with metastases to the peritoneum is around 10% and possibly even higher. A huge number of patients.'

Geert van Almen, CEO UPyTher


So what did you come up with to this?

From our study of drug delivery materials, we started developing a gel that can be injected into the abdominal cavity. In liquid form it is injected into the abdominal cavity and there it spreads. Then the liquid turns into a soft gel that stays there for several days and administers the chemotherapy. Such a gel can work much more effectively and for a longer period of time than a liquid which only has an effect for one or two hours.

That sounds wonderful, but we're not there yet I understand. What do you need for a Level Up?

We obviously want to help many people and are working hard to be able to start the first study in patients in two years, but we also know that after that it will take another two to three years before the gel is available to all patients.For us, a 'level up' is going to the next phase of testing. Therefore, we would also like to expand our network. We are very strong technologically in the region and the province, but you also need, for example, people who know how to develop and register a new drug. We also value our collaboration with physicians who play an important role in implementing this new treatment into the current care of the patients with peritoneal cancer.

Because we are making a unique crossover between technology and the medical community, we are not the most obvious partner for everyone. But we are looking for people, organizations and companies who want to strengthen us and work together to develop a life-saving drug and take it to market. Moreover, working together in the region has really surprised me in a positive way. I really believe that together you can go further.

Thank you Geert and good luck with UPyTher!

Reading tips

Find the other interviews from the triptych of interviews with special startups here.

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