Minnesotan To Meet: StemoniX CEO Ping Yeh
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — He beat cancer and now he’s trying to tackle other diseases head-on to help others do the same!
That’s why Eden Prairie’s Ping Yeh started up the company StemoniX and it’s getting some positive attention. Yeh and the company’s co-founders are the recipients of this year’s Minnesota Cup, an award given to local start-ups by the U of M’s Carlson School of Management.
What they do is complex, but important. Yeh and the rest of the StemoniX staff convert human skin cells, to stem cells, to living microOrgans, those microOrgans are then used by drug companies to test new drugs. Yeh moved to Minnesotan in the fall of 2001 and he met his now wife the week he was out here for a job interview. “I fell in love and stayed in Minnesota,” Yeh said.
Yeh moved to the Twin Cities to work at Seagate Technology for a job in nanotechnology, which is studying interaction of surfaces at the nano-level. In 2012, Yeah was in diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and shortly after he underwent chemotherapy. “My regimen was every two weeks, and four months into the treatment they told me it wasn’t working,” Yeh said. That’s when his doctors switched him to a more aggressive version of chemo. “At that point they weren’t sure if it was going to cure me or kill me because it was toxic,” Yeh said. The drug was so strong it had to be administered in the hospital and Yeh had to be supervised around the clock. “The low point was when I couldn’t even feed myself,” Yeh said.
But slowly the father and husband got his strength back and beat cancer, but it was during his struggle he knew he wanted to make a difference in the fight against cancer. “I promised myself, I am going to use these skills to do something more impactful and wanted to pivot toward life sciences,” Yeh said. That’s when Stemonix was formed. It combines fields like chemical and computer engineering, as well biological sciences and addresses cancer research at the smallest level. “We are reprogramming the cells like the computer, we use different processes to push it to become a heart cell,” said Yeh, describing in more detail what exactly StemoniX is doing. Those microOrgans are then used by drug companies to test new drugs. It’s a way to test medication on humans without the medicine ever entering the body. “With this kind of technology we can address that problem and find out if the drug is going to kill you or not,” Yeh said.
Still in its infancy, Yeh said this is just beginning of hopefully changing the way research in medicine is conducted. “I think in five years we become a standard for drug approvals,” said Yeh discussing the goals for his company. Yeh said he is hoping to double the size of his company in the next 5 years. He said it usually takes about two billion dollars and a dozen years to take a drug to the market, he is hopeful his research will help make drug companies save money and make testing more efficient.
StemoniX is leading the development and manufacturing of human induced pluripotent stem cells for academic and industrial pharmaceutical research and discovery applications, such as biologically accurate, miniaturized organ-like microtissues. Its biotechnology provides scientists the ultimate “in vitro” testing environment with standardized, easy-to-use, cost-effective access to relevant human microtissue for toxicity and efficacy screening. Incorporated in Minnesota, the company is co-located in Minneapolis and San Diego, Calif. For more information visit www.stemonix.com.