Katerina Chatzi: Curative Therapies for Autoimmune Diseases
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi folks! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth, back with a new guest. Katerina Chatzi, the co-founder and CEO of Promakhos Therapeutics, is committed to making a difference in the world. Let’s see how she’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome, Katerina! Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me what challenge Promakhos Therapeutics is addressing?
Katerina: Thanks for the invite to be here today, Spiffy! Promakhos Therapeutics develops cures for autoimmune diseases. Millions of people around the globe suffer from such diseases. Yet, there are no cures. Current treatments block our immune system to manage symptoms and usually work for a limited time. Instead of dampening down the immune system, we develop molecules inspired by our body’s resident bacteria, to awaken our innate ability to resolve inflammation and heal. By targeting the root cause of the problem, we strive to deliver curative therapies.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Katerina: After spending years researching the basic properties of life you realize that the knowledge accumulates, and you reach a stage where you can solve hard biological problems. Putting your knowledge and skills towards improving or saving a human life gives great purpose. Imagine that you can create a product that will make someone walk again or allow them to do basic functions of life without pain. This is a very powerful thought, and it is something we can achieve within the next few years.
Spiffy: How would you say that Promakhos Therapeutics is working towards a more equitable world?
Katerina: The obvious answer is that by helping to cure debilitating diseases, patients can have an equitable life. In addition, both my co-founder and I founded this company straight out of academia. When it comes to developing treatments for serious or deadly diseases, it is believed that only established veterans and institutions can create solutions. As we continue building our company, we wish to encourage everyone and show that they too can embark on a journey to build their own biology company and provide a major contribution to human health.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent company milestone and the impact it makes.
Katerina: Recently, one of our molecules reversed symptoms of acute intestinal inflammation in a mouse model of autoimmunity. This was a very encouraging result, and we continue developing this molecule into a drug for patients. Furthermore, this past October we closed our first round of funding after participating in the summer 2021 batch of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley accelerator. With this newly raised money, we further support our drug development and are building a pipeline to discover new molecules for treating chronic inflammatory diseases.
Spiffy: Inspiring! Before I let you go, can you share an experience of when you faced failure and didn’t give up? What did you learn from it?
Katerina: When we started the company, we needed to raise capital and almost everyone said no. These initial rejections were painful and made us question our plan. We persisted and eventually things turned out well. I’ve learnt the following things - If your company is in deep tech, only few people will understand what you do, and you should not be easily discouraged; you are not only looking for money, but also for people that think like you; save your time and strength for battles that are worth fighting. If someone doesn’t show any interest, thank them, and leave; all of the above can work in environments where you have significant control over what you are doing. Startups are a great way to have control over your future.
Spiffy: Thank you so much for talking to me today, Katerina—it’s been an honor!
Katerina Chatzi grew up in Athens, Greece. She has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Crete. As a postdoc at Harvard University, she investigated how antibiotic resistant bacteria grow. In 2021, Katerina co-founded Promakhos Therapeutics. They are Y Combinator’s S21 alumni and located at the Pagliuca Harvard life lab in Allston, Massachusetts. The company develops new ways to treat autoimmune diseases.(Nominated by Surbhi Sarna at YCombinator-Healthcare Partner. First published on the Ladderworks website on January 12, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.
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