Founder & CEO, Torigen Pharmaceuticals Inc.
More than 50% of all dogs over the age of 10 die from cancer. UConn alumna Ashley Kalinauskas is part of a team working to change that. Ashley is founder and CEO of Torigen Pharmaceuticals, a veterinary biotech company that is leading the way in animal oncology by harnessing the pet’s immune system to fight cancer. Torigen’s team of clinical researchers and veterinary professionals create personalized cancer immunotherapies tailored for each patient by using their deactivated tumor cells, giving them a tool to fight cancer that doesn’t involve the potentially painful side effects of chemotherapy.
Ashley Kalinauskas is doing things WerthWatching:
- Made Forbes’ “30 under 30” list
- Secured $1.8M in Series A financing
- Helping save dogs’ lives
Ashley is focused on delivering an accessible and affordable alternative to chemotherapy to the general public and is leading Torigen’s growth to meet this need. With a team of 18 employees, Torigen has treated nearly 500 cases this year alone, with over 1,000 animals treated with the VetiVax treatment since its inception in 2017 (with limited side effects). Treatment is offered through veterinary oncologists as well as general vet practices at a fraction of the cost of chemotherapy.
Along with providing hope to pet parents, Torigen is also collecting valuable data from these tumors and tracking trends, which has resulted in a new product backed by new patented technology. The company recently completed a series A round funding and has a goal to raise $10 million by year-end.
A Calculated Risk Taker
Entrepreneurship was always the plan for the Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree. Ashley graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2012 with an undergraduate degree in Pathobiology and Veterinary Sciences and went on to complete her master’s at the University of Notre Dame, where she came up with the idea for Torigen as part of her thesis to develop a viable business plan. She was offered a job at a medical device company but turned it down to pursue Torigen.
“I like to build. That’s why entrepreneurship has always appealed to me. I like to see a project from start to end and wear multiple hats. Entrepreneurship is about being able to put your elbow grease behind something, knowing that work can change the world.”
Ashley moved back to her home state of Connecticut where she had access to resources that would help shape the future direction of the company. “I’m a risk taker but it’s calculated risk taking,” said Ashley. “I didn’t pay myself a salary and lived with my dad because I knew Torigen had the potential to be so much more. So I went all in.”
Torigen received initial funding from Angel Investors and the UConn Innovation Fund, along with others. Through the UConn Technology Incubation Program (TIP), Ashley has dedicated laboratory space, access to unique research and development facilities, and advice from business experts and investors that has helped grow the company.
Torigen was on the cusp of closing fundraising in March of 2020 and had just hired a sales director when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “Investors pulled back funding and we had to scale down operations,” said Ashley. “Everything I worked for was slipping between my fingers. But these challenges made us work harder. We went back to the lab and focused on product development, filing a patent in the summer from data and research done in the spring. Because things were a lot slower, we had the time to understand the future direction we wanted to take the company and be more nimble. People were at home with their pets more and able to see when things were wrong, which led to the vet industry booming. We were able to ride that trend but also had this new data that combined, helped us grow faster.”
“Mentorship is the best tool to understand and see through some of the emotion change can bring from people who have been through it,” she said. “The Werth Institute is helpful for building that UConn network. There are so many different areas and resources for help, mentorship, investment dollars and being able to find great avenues to grow. Werth is the first steppingstone to get to that next level by showing you the financials, how to develop a business pitch and a business plan, how to have a profitable business and how to pivot when you need to pivot.”
So what’s on the horizon for Ashley?
“I love being an entrepreneur and definitely see myself being a serial entrepreneur. I also like venture capital quite a bit and think that by being an entrepreneur and seeing the struggles from start to finish, not only can I be a great mentor for early-stage companies but can put together potentially a nice fund one day.”