Elisabet (Eli) de Los Pinos has devoted her career to fighting cancer—first as a research scientist in academia and at big pharma, and for the past six years as the founder and CEO of Aura Biosciences.
De los Pinos is an exceptional entrepreneur with a passion for science and a dogged determination for finding a truly effective treatment for cancer. After completing business school and working in the pharmaceutical industry for five years, de los Pinos discovered some interesting science that could be applied to cancer treatment. The initial research had been done out of John Schiller’s lab at the National Cancer Institute. With funding from angel investors, de los Pinos moved to Boston and founded Aura Biosciences in 2009 to license, and further research and develop, the groundbreaking technology and bring it to patients. In collaboration with the research team at the NCI, Aura’s viral-like nanoparticle technology has advanced and shown great scientific and clinical potential. The beauty of this science is that it destroys cancer cells without harming healthy tissue.
Aura’s first clinical target is for a rare disease called ocular melanoma, an aggressive form of cancer that develops in the eye and has no therapies available. Because Aura’s technology does not harm healthy tissue, the patient’s vision would not be affected, and patients could be treated much earlier, decreasing their chances of deadly metastases. The company is scheduled to begin clinical trials to treat ocular melanoma late this year, all under de los Pinos’ leadership.
De los Pinos’ strong scientific and business background has guided the strategy of the company to where it is today. The idea of focusing on a rare cancer like ocular melanoma has been key to the company’s success. The FDA has an orphan drug designation program that provides orphan status to drugs that demonstrate promise for the treatment of rare diseases, allowing them to be developed with a smaller number of patients, which makes it easier to gain marketing approval in addition to other financial incentives. By implementing this business strategy, Aura Biosciences has the opportunity to launch a first-in-class drug in fewer than three years, position the company as a leader in ocular oncology, and demonstrate the potential of the technology for many other cancer indications.
De los Pinos’ work at Aura Biosciences, which was recognized by the World Economic Forum in 2010, is bringing great hope to a rare disease patient community where no other treatments exist. Her core values are centered on cancer patients, and the vision of the company is to have the courage to master a novel technology that has never been tried before to improve the outcomes of the most challenging cancers.