When Yang Zheng decided to go to business school, he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. Instead of launching his own mobile application or consumer product, he sought an opportunity to join up with a University of Chicago doctor and begin work on bringing a technology to market that will change people’s lives.
An MBA student at Chicago Booth, Zheng is the chief operating officer of Oxalo Therapeutics, a biotechnology company that is developing a novel drug to prevent kidney stones. Oxalo is the latest in a series of research innovations that, with the help of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is moving from the lab to making impact in the real world.
Oxalo’s drug is based on research conducted by Hatim Hassan, a UChicago assistant professor of medicine, who studies the gut microbe that exists in some people that helps prevent kidney stones. This microbe, found in around 60 percent of people, releases factors that stimulate the intestines to remove oxalate, the toxic molecule that, when combined with calcium, causes most kidney stones. By creating a drug that mimics the factors that this bug releases, the drug aims to remove oxalate in the body and prevent kidney stones. This type of microbiome-inspired therapy is sometimes referred to as “drugs as bugs.”
On May 22, Oxalo Therapeutics will find out if it is one of the teams selected to compete in the nationally renowned Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, in which companies present to a panel of esteemed entrepreneurs and investors.
Zheng got involved with the Polsky Center through programs like the Collaboratorium, which connects University scientists and researchers with business students, and the Technology Venture Fellows program. While working as an intern in the Polsky Center’s technology commercialization office, Zheng decided he was ready to take his business expertise and join a company that could make an impact.
“My criteria for whatever business I joined or started was that it would make dramatic impact in people’s lives, and in reviewing these University technologies, it seemed like biotech was the way to do that,” said Zheng. “I wanted to focus on one technology that had good potential and a good cofounder, and at the same time, Hassan’s technology was just mature enough where it was ready to be commercialized. And the Polsky Center, knowing both of our paths and our goals for the future, connected us.”