CU biotech start-up gets $1.5 million contract to develop head and neck cancer treatment

SuviCa Inc. of Boulder, a University of Colorado Boulder biotech start-up company, has been awarded roughly $1.5 million in federal funding to develop novel treatments for head and neck cancer.

The award to SuviCa is a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the National Cancer Institute, part of National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services. SuviCa was founded in 2010 based on a novel drug-screening technology developed by CU-Boulder Professor Tin Tin Su, SuviCa co-founder and chief scientific officer.

The funding will allow SuviCa to continue development of the drug SVC112, a compound shown to enhance the anti-tumor effects of radiation in animal models of human head and neck cancer, said SuviCa CEO Judy Hemberger. While radiation is a regular therapy used to treat such cancers, it also is associated with potentially devastating side effects and tumor recurrence, she said.

New treatments under development by Su and her colleagues involve small molecules that work together with currently used cancer therapeutics  to destroy cancerous tumors, said Hemberger. The lead candidate for treatment currently is a “radiation enhancer” molecule that inhibits a specific process that cancer cells rely on to recover from radiation damage.

The project is being directed by Su and Bert Pronk, SuviCa’s vice president of preclinical development. The team also includes clinicians and scientists at CU-Boulder, the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Colorado State University.  

CU’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO) exclusively licensed SVC112, along with related technology, to SuviCa in 2011 and 2012.

“We have very talented researchers at each of these institutions that together are tackling the challenges involved with successfully developing novel treatment options for head and neck cancer,” said Su, a professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. 

“We are excited to receive continued support from the National Cancer Institute,” said Hemberger. “Our goal as a company is to generate innovative ways to improve how we treat cancer patients, and we are pleased that the scientific and business communities recognize that we are working with an important technology.”

The small molecules developed by SuviCa target ribosomes, which synthesize proteins inside of cells, said Hemberger. Ribosomes are becoming increasingly recognized as a potential therapeutic target in cancer treatment.

TTO pursues, protects, packages and licenses intellectual property generated from research at the university. Tech Transfer provides assistance to faculty, staff and students, as well as to businesses looking to license or invest in CU technology.

For more information on SuviCa visit For more information about technology transfer at CU, visit

Callie Weiant, SuviCa VP for Business Development, 303-921-6680
Lola Underwood, CU Tech Transfer Office media relations, 303-860-6201
Jim Scott, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-492-3114