August 27, 2013

Beekmantown man earns $450,000 grant for research


PLATTSBURGH — The future of medicine may easily lie in research being conducted by people like Beekmantown Central School graduate Kelsey Moody.

Moody, who followed up his high-school career as a 2010 graduate from Plattsburgh State, is currently in his second year as a medical student at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

But Moody is also involved in some exciting research that may one day help improve the treatment of such conditions as heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

“The medical establishment has become very effective at treating infectious disease, with developing vaccines, antibiotics and other successful treatment measures,” Moody said from Syracuse recently.

“But when it comes to chronic disease and particularly diseases of old age, we haven’t observed the same improvement in patient outcomes. I believe we need to consider fundamentally new approaches that may more adequately address the dynamic nature and complexity of these diseases.”

One such direction involves cell therapy, the process of introducing new cells into tissue to treat disease, Moody said.

“Traditionally, diseases have been treated by ‘one-size-fits-all’ small-molecule drugs, but I believe medicine is entering a stage where it can and will do better,” he said.

Small-molecule prescription drugs are made in huge quantities by a chemical process and typically involve the unwelcome inclusion of side effects, but Moody believes drugs created through cell therapy will respond to a disease in a much more predictable manner.

“When you administer a chemical (in small-molecule drugs) to a patient in high concentrations, it is often difficult to predict how the patient will react. There may be all manner of unexpected side effects from the treatment,” Moody said.

“For example, Viagra was originally intended to treat heart disease. It performed poorly in a clinical setting. Many cell-based therapies are actually safer and more effective than standard treatment options.”

The problem with cell therapy is availability.

“We just can’t get cells in high-enough volume,” Moody said of the reality that cell therapy currently relies on cell donors. “We need manufacturing processes that allow us to generate cells on the same scale as small-molecule drugs.”

Moody’s current research aims to solve the manufacturing issue for the production of rare blood-stem cells. He recently received a $450,000 grant from the Life Extension Foundation to seed his start-up company, Ichor Therapeutics Inc., which focuses on tackling key bottlenecks in the field of regenerative medicine. 

“I’ve been interested in pursuing this project for a year and a half or so,” he said. “When I got to medical school, I decided to raise money to pursue that idea.”

Moody first considered doing his research through university affiliations but then chose to operate through a business and formed Ichor Therapeutics Inc.

“Start-up companies are the vehicle of choice to drive disruptive technological innovation to satisfy this and other unmet medical needs,” he said of efforts to improve the treatment of chronic, age-related disease. “They are lean, efficient and can respond rapidly to changes in our understanding of the therapies we develop, and the diseases they are intended to treat.”

After graduating from Plattsburgh State, Moody was recruited for a position as chief technology officer at ImmunePath, a biotech start-up company in Silicon Valley, Calif., funded by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and the initial outside investor of Facebook.

At ImmunePath, Moody was involved in stem-cell research aimed at helping reduce the impact chemotherapy has on the body’s immune system during cancer treatments.

The research was successful in using stem cells to replace damaged immune cells in mice, but the company was unable to attract enough investors to support extended — and expensive — human clinical trials.

That experience prompted Moody to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Concordia University in January 2013.

Working on his medical degree is a continuation of his desire to find the answer to improve treatments for chronic age-related diseases.

“I’m interested in being at the center of where research, medicine and business intersect,” he said. “My goal is to have a background in research, a background in business and a background in medicine.

“There are a lot of talented people in all three areas, but a consistent challenge is that they speak three completely different languages. We need focused, interdisciplinary teams working creatively to solve difficult problems. My role as CEO at Ichor is really to guide the discovery process by facilitating communication between these groups.”

Meanwhile, it is the bottom line that interests Moody the most.

“We are not alone in our efforts to solve these hard problems,” he said. “There are a lot of other teams and labs researching cell therapy. Someone will cross the finish line sooner or later, but to me it doesn’t matter who it is. If we can deliver safe and effective new treatments to the public, then everyone wins.”

Moody is the son of Miles and Kelly Moody and grandson of Annette Deyo and the late Ernest Deyo of Beekmantown.

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