Luca Giani: Creating Effective, Low-Cost Treatments for Neurodegenerative Diseases
Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to speak with Luca Giani, the co-founder of Ilios Therapeutics, Inc. Let’s dive right in.
Spiffy: Thanks a million for talking with me today, Luca. What challenge is Ilios Therapeutics, Inc addressing?
Luca: Glad to be here, Spiffy! At Ilios Therapeutics, Inc, we are working to end Alzheimer's and Dementia; insidious diseases that strip people away from who they are, leaving them shells of themselves.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Luca: My family has a history of Alzheimer's, and I find it impossible to believe that there is no treatment currently available to counter the death of neurons and development of neurodegenerative diseases. We constantly talk about longevity, but about 70% of healthcare costs are clustered in the last few years of people's lives. Therefore, I believe that we should focus more on quality of life, on trying to find a therapy to make people live better, and be able to fully use their cognitive abilities until the end of their lives.
Spiffy: That’s very philosophical—and you’re being proactive about it, which is inspiring! How would you say that you and the company are working towards a more equitable world?
Luca: In the U.S. alone, there are over 9 million people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. These affect more people of color and disadvantaged, less-educated communities. By the time people reach their 80s, about one in every three people will develop some form of dementia. The cost to the economy of these diseases is around $900 billion per year. And this number does not include the emotional cost associated with the disease. This is a huge problem that burdens families and caregivers, costing an average of $300,000 per patient, over the lifespan of the problem. We want to change this, bringing to life a new low-cost drug to prevent and counter neurodegenerative diseases.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent company milestone or initiative. What impact does that make?
Luca: We have synthesized a battery of new molecules that we will bring through molecular and animal models to prove our mechanism of action ahead of human clinical trials.
Spiffy: Wow, all the best! Like an entrepreneur or researcher, I’m sure you’ve had your share of failure and setbacks. Can you elaborate on an experience and share what you learned from it, how you handled it?
Luca: Many pharmaceutical companies have tried to study neurodegenerative diseases for years with no effective drug being approved. This has raised the bar for what investors think of any company trying to find a solution. In terms of failures, similarly to many other entrepreneurs, I had to learn to deal with many rejections from investors and calls being terminated after a few minutes. The biggest learning from each of those is to be resilient and continue to work towards the objective of making neurodegenerative diseases a thing of the past, learn from the comments of the investors, and continue to advance our science.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Luca—it’s been an honor!
Luca Giani is the CEO of Ilios Therapeutics and a Fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center. (Nominated by Alex Parks at the Harvard Innovation Labs. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 15, 2022.)© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.