Islander gets cancer-therapy startup funded

Nathaniel Horwitz works in the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. — Courtesy Nathaniel Horwitz

Nathaniel Brooks Horwitz, a West Tisbury resident and senior at Harvard University, will leave college a semester shy of graduation in order to work full-time on a startup that aims to unleash the curative potential of cancer therapies.

Mr. Horwitz, a 2014 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, said in an email that his new company, Nivien Therapeutics, is developing a new class of cancer therapies based on discoveries by a lab at Harvard Medical School. “Rather than attack cancer directly,” he said, “we target the ‘resistance mechanisms’ — the biological shields — that enable tumors to resist treatment with existing drugs.”

During the summer after his sophomore year, Mr. Horwitz worked at a biotech venture capital firm in Boston, and at a lab at Harvard. “I discovered what I’m most passionate about is turning scientific research into applied technologies,” he said.

Mr. Horwitz, who worked at The Times as an intern/reporter over several years, beginning when he was an editor of The High School View, co-founded the company with a Harvard classmate, and partnered with the chair of the department of systems biology at Harvard Medical School. They began running experiments to test their hypotheses more than a year ago, and just recently secured funding from two Silicon Valley venture firms.

“Our goal is to begin clinical trials in 2020,” he said, “starting with pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. Those three cancers are all treated with the same type of chemo, where we’ve had strong initial results showing that we can enhance it with our experimental strategy.”

Mr. Horwitz said he’s grateful for the education he got at MVRHS, especially with Elliott Bennett: “Mrs. Bennett taught me biology, and oversaw my independent studies on gene editing and Alzheimer’s. I would never would have majored in molecular biology without her.”