Lauren Mifflin is a Chicago Booth MBA grad on the front lines of the fight against cancer. She’s co-founder of Latona Therapeutics, a pioneering biotech startup working to improve cancer treatment through nanotechnology.
Launched out of the National Institute of Health’s Nano Startup Challenge in Cancer, Latona is developing a light-activated nanoparticle coating which can be put around the drugs used in chemotherapy to prevent them having negative side effects anywhere else in the body.
Exposed to a light source, the nanoparticles break apart and release the potent chemotherapeutic drugs exactly where you want them to go, destroying cancer cells with minimal impact on surrounding healthy tissue.
While Latona’s initial focus is on triple negative breast cancer - found in up to 20% of breast cancer patients - Lauren is confident that its unique nanotechnology has the potential to improve treatment options for all cancers.
Lauren has always seen herself as a connector between business and healthcare. She completed a dual undergraduate degree studying neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania and business at Wharton. She spent the next three years in healthcare-focused consulting at Monitor Deloitte. Now, she’s studying a masters in immunology at Harvard Medical School.
But it was only through the Chicago Booth MBA - with its flexibility and experiential learning approach - that Lauren (pictured below) was able to truly combine her business knowledge with her passion for healthcare and transition into the world of biotech startups.
What does the future hold for Latona Therapeutics?
One of the exciting things about this technology is we’re able to expand pretty quickly across indications.
The nano-capsule and the light device essentially hold across any combination of cancer therapy that you want to stick inside. For triple-negative breast cancer, you’re putting in one set of drugs. But if you wanted to do it for gastrointestinal cancer you’d put in a different set of drugs. Prostate cancer, you’d put in a third set of drugs.
So the amount of new development work that would need to happen in the future is minimal.
How has Chicago Booth supported you in your business venture?
Booth is very unique among business schools in that we don’t have a set curriculum; you can take up to six of your 20 classes outside of the b-school. So I actually did the full University of Chicago PhD Immunology first year coursework! Had I never taken classes in the science school, and in the medical school, I would have never gotten connected into the world of biotech startups.
Booth is also very well connected into the exterior Chicago healthcare ecosystem. The university has put aside $20 million to fund promising research coming out of the university into the startup stage. At the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, I’ve met a lot of mentors and potential investors for Latona.
The other piece is the VC lab, a class I took where you work part-time at a VC fund. I got the chance to build funding tables, sit in investor meetings and understand how it all works. Going into the Latona team, I’m much better able to support them having sat on the other side of the table.
What makes Chicago an attractive destination for healthcare startups?
The Midwest has a ton of infrastructure that the coasts don’t. If you want one city that has a major healthcare insurer nearby, you have UnitedHealth in Minneapolis, you have a dozen hospitals in the Chicago area, you have senior care homes, and you have great universities. There’s a lot of untapped resources.
What’s really cool is I got to be at Booth for the emergence of the healthcare startup ecosystem in Chicago. The Matter healthcare incubator started a couple of months after I got there. The Chicago Innovation Exchange was built. It was mainly the connectivity that was missing and that’s emerged in the last few years. The difference month to month is astounding.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Chicago Booth?
There were a lot of things I loved about consulting but I’d never had the chance – as a consultant and as an undergrad – to consider other paths. An MBA was a great way to explore things; to figure out where I wanted to go and to be more purposeful in how I directed things afterwards.
At Booth, I worked with Latona, I worked with another startup, I worked part-time for a VC fund doing healthcare. These things helped me figure out that the early-stage startup world is the area I’m really passionate about and where I can have more of an impact.
What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?
There’s a huge difference between how Booth teaches, and how Wharton and Harvard teach. If you have the chance, go to the school. A lot of the culture emerges when you sit on a class for an hour.
For me, it was a lot of research in advance; finding out what the schools were like and talking to people who’d graduated from the schools in the past. Booth was by far the best personality fit with how I work and think.