Startup led by chemistry graduate students takes home top prize at pitch competition

March 18, 2022 by Rahul Kalvapalle

HDAX Therapeutics, co-founded by Nabanita Nawar and Tobi Olaoye, took home top prize at the University of Toronto’s largest pitch competition of the year.  

Nawar and Olaoye are PhD Students in the Gunning Group in the department of chemistry. 

With treatments targeting brain cancers and neurodegenerative disorders at their roots, HDAX Therapeutics took home the top prize of $25,000 in the later-stage category of the UTE Startup Prize pitch competition, part of U of T’s annual Entrepreneurship Week event.

The results of the competition, held virtually earlier in the week, were announced prior to the UTE Speaker Series featuring Canadian sprinting legend, Olympic gold medallist and businessman Donovan Bailey.

“The greatest misnomer is [people] think they can get rich overnight – you cannot do that. You also can’t be the Olympic champion or the greatest sprinter on Earth overnight,” Bailey said, noting the fundamental secrets to success are the same in elite sport and in the business world.

“The first thing that I always tell entrepreneurs and CEOs is also the same thing I tell young athletes, which is that if you don’t put in the work, if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, if you’re not disciplined, if you’re not focused – you’re not going to get the results that you want.”

Nawar impressed the judges in the late-stage category competition with her pitch outlining the startup’s novel approach to treating brain diseases.

By using a patented mechanism to target the protein HDAC6 – implicated in brain cancers and neurodegenerative disorders – HDAX Therapeutics is looking to bring a high degree of precision and efficiency to deliver a strong anti-tumor effect, which has already been observed in animal studies.