Deep Dive: Estrigenix Theraputics

The goal of Estrigenix Therapeutics, Inc., is to develop and commercialize better therapeutics to treat hot flashes and memory dysfunction in menopausal women. The startup was founded in 2018 by three professors: Karyn Frick (UW-Milwaukee), William Donaldson (Marquette University) and Daniel Sem (Concordia University Wisconsin). The team provides an excellent complementary expertise with a neuroscientist, chemist, and biochemist/MBA/JD, respectively. 

Dr. Donaldson, acting chief executive officer, has over 35 years of experience in organic synthesis and chemical methodology development and has published 120 research papers. He retired from Marquette University’s Chemistry Department in May 2021 to lead Estrigenix Therapeutics fulltime. The group’s research efforts to date have been supported by the NIH (~$800,000) and a UWMRF Catalyst grant of $56,000. The company is working to raise a small See round followed by a Series A of $3 million and a total of at least $10 million to get through Phase II clinical trials, at which point the company would  license the lead compound to a large pharmaceutical company.  

Dr. Frick has published over 90 papers in leading neuroscience and neuroendocrinology journals and is the editor of the 2020 book Estrogens and Memory: Basic Research and Clinical Implications published by Oxford University Press. Recent awards include the UW System Regent Scholar, UWM Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year, Alzheimer’s Association of Southeastern WI Investigator of the Year, and the UWM Research Foundation Senior Faculty Award. A world-renowned neuroscientist, Frick has over 30 years of experience studying the neurobiological mechanisms underlying memory formation. 

“Estrogens, it turns out, are very, very important to cognitive regions of the brain, whose neurons simply don’t function as well in women without relatively high levels of estrogens. Thus, estrogen loss at menopause can impair cognitive functions such as memory; as can hot flashes, which are additionally disruptive and unpleasant,” says Frick. Beyond teaching, running a federally-funded research lab, and co-directing the university’s new Neuroscience major, she is also the Chief Scientific Officer at Estrigenix Therapeutics.  

Dr. Daniel Sem, vice president of business development, has over 20 years of experience in drug discovery and development and has over 70 papers and 10 issued patents. Previously, he co-founded three drug discovery and development companies (Triad, AviMed and Retham) and one social venture (Bridge to Cures) and was recently honored with the Wisconsin Inno 2021 Fire Award from Wisconsin Inno for his work with Bridges to Cures. Dr. Sem is the dean and a professor of business and pharmaceutical sciences at Concordia.  

Since its founding, Estrigenix has taken a licensing option with the three partner institutions to pursue further fundraising opportunities. They have obtained proof of concept on their patented lead molecule (EGX358) in pre-clinical studies, including both in vitro and in vivo studies. In 2021 the UWMRF awarded Estrigenix $22,000 through the new Bridge Grant program, specifically formed to assist UWM startups in accomplishing key business milestones. “Estrigenix Therapeutics is a perfect example of our strength in collaboration through three of our Milwaukee area Universities. I am very excited by their promising animal studies that could lead to a potential drug to help women in menopause with issues of hot flashes and memory decline,” says Dr. Jessica Silvaggi, vice president of the UWM Research Foundation.