Meet the Health Innovators: Milky Way Biotech
More than half of the global population struggles with lactose intolerance, and many faces various challenges and symptoms when consuming dairy products. The student startup, Milky Way Biotech, aims to empower millions of people to enjoy the nutritional benefits of dairy without limitations, ultimately improving their quality of life.
Milky Way Biotech is developing a new peroral somatic gene therapy single-dose pill, and aim to reverse genetic lactose intolerance, offering a convenient and effective alternative to traditional treatments.
We invited the startup’s s lead researcher, Mario Alzamora, the COO Patrik Szoboszlai and Molecular Biologist, Angeliki Panetsou to share their experience with being a student startup in the Biotech field. Together with a team of 8 people in total, Milky Way Biotech aim to modify the LCT gene in intestinal cells, enabling the body to produce enough lactase enzyme to digest lactose naturally.
Improving patients’ quality of life is what motivates the team, Angeliki explains. Approximately 65% of the world’s population deals with lactose intolerance and is deprived of its nutritional benefits, having to face stressful situations, uncertainty, and symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, bloated intestines, and diarrhea. Patrik adds that peroral somatic gene therapy is revolutionary and, in their opinion, by far the most effective and convenient way to treat lactose intolerance compared to lactase pills, lactose-free products, or complete dairy avoidance.
Joining the Health Innovators Programme
Milky Way Biotech took part in the Health Innovators Programme in 2023 after hearing about it from other student entrepreneurs. Recognizing the importance of understanding the healthcare sector and establishing vital connections, Milky Way Biotech decided to join the programme.
They sought insights into the healthcare landscape, strategies, and considerations specific to health startups. Furthermore, as one of their main stakeholders are the general practitioners who could potentially prescribe their treatment, the program provided a platform for expanding their network in the healthcare system.
Join the Health Innovators Program
The Health Innovators Program is a 4-month program targeted at early-stage start-ups and innovation ideas by students & teams who are motivated to develop solutions for better health.
The programme is hosted by the Faculty of Health and Medical Science (UCPH) and Copenhagen Health Innovation – a collaboration between University of Copenhagen, University College Copenhagen, the Royal Academy, DTU and the Capital Region.
The Health Innovators Programme was an important step in getting closer to achieving their mission. Here the team acquired knowledge on pitching frameworks, human-centered development, and the structure of the Danish healthcare system.
The programme is for students with ideas to improve health. Through workshops, business development and network building, students get support to develop new innovations and startups specifically within healthcare and the health care market.
Creating an impact as a student startup
With most of the team being students, they balance both the entrepreneurial life and their academic studies. Mario describes how this gives them both advantages and challenges: As a student startup in Denmark, they benefit from a wide range of opportunities such as startup accelerators, soft funding, and competitions.
In their experience, they have the ability as students to think outside of the box. This combined with a high level of ambition enables them to work with brave, and creative thinking.
However, finding the right balance between their academic studies and the startup-related work remains an exercise in time management and sometimes extraordinarily busy exam periods. Being on a shared mission to improve health is the driver that helps make all ends meet for all team members. Angeliki highlights that developing innovative solutions for the healthcare sector offers immense rewards in terms of positively impacting the health and well-being of many people.
The three entrepreneurs encourage other students with ideas for better health to jump into it like they have done themselves. For them, it has made a true difference is to seek the support and network with fellow entrepreneurs at the universities’ innovation support.
The right team to make it happen
To succeed as a startup in the Biotech field, the right team is crucial. Patrik explains how bringing in different perspectives has been crucial for Milky Way Biotech. Their diversity comes from different academic backgrounds spanning from biotechnology, pre-clinical research, pharmaceuticals, microbiology, business innovation, fundraising, web development, and marketing.
This makes them well-prepared to tackle the challenges of developing, optimizing, and commercializing their innovative solution. During the Health Innovators Programme, they furthermore got their first industry mentor from the biotech business on board. Currently they seek to expand their team with a fundraiser and welcomes experts in AAV capsid engineering to contribute to their mission.
Developing solutions to a complex health care sector
When asked about what comes next for the early-stage startup, Patrik explains that during the next 3-6 months they aim to develop their viral vector and laboratory protocol for pilot and pre-clinical studies. They plan to initiate in vitro pilot studies by the end of this year, followed by pre-clinical studies in the first quarter of 2024.
Mario elaborates that they face an exciting journey where they also need to overcome challenges in navigating regulatory affairs, business models, and pricing complexities – not least raise capital to achieve their milestones.