First Ascent Biomedical Cofounder Jim Foote on Changing the Future of Treating Cancer and Finding Your Own North Star

May 01, 2024

Jim Foote has spent his career solving complex problems using technology. When his son, Trey, was diagnosed with bone cancer, they thought they were going to beat it, just like every other patient. After eight months of grueling chemotherapy, Foote was shocked when the doctors said, "We’re sorry. We’ve given it the best we’ve got. Trey’s cancer has returned." Then they asked him what he wanted to do next.

Foote did the research but couldn’t solve this problem to save his son. But he knew this was a solvable problem. That's why First Ascent Biomedical (Techstars 2021) was started, they realized it wasn't just a medical problem.

How is what you are building disrupting your industry?

A cancer diagnosis is based on a 100-year-old practice that starts with the location your cancer was discovered in your body. Next, a standard of care is developed for that cancer, a recipe book used to treat every patient with that cancer type. It's called the NCCN guideline, and some of these guidelines haven't changed in decades. It's called outcome-based medicine, built off of lots of people and lots of data, and in cancer, it works 77% of the time. But in 2024, one in three cancer patients still die (33%).

But there is only one YOU, and we put YOU at the center of your cancer treatment. Our disruption is attempting to change all that. We start with a biopsy of the patient's cancer. We test 100s of FDA-approved drugs against the patient's biopsy (drug sensitivity testing). This is called Functional Precision Medicine (FPM). This provides rich data on cell response to different drugs or drug combinations. This first-in-kind, disruptive innovation is the key to the clinical results we’ve been able to achieve and publish.

The AI/ML platform rapidly reviews an unprecedented number of drug combinations. Our process ensures we look at ALL your cancer's weaknesses (not just a single DNA-based flag) and then develop your specific combination therapy plan for the individual patient in about a week.

What has been your proudest moment or biggest triumph in your entrepreneurial journey?

Logan is an 8-year-old boy. He is a patient who benefitted from a Functional Precision Medicine approach. He was part of our clinical study EV13. He’s here today because of the power of the platform. Logan had an aggressive form of leukemia, had a bone marrow transplant, and quickly relapsed. Our platform guided his treatment, and he’s here today, two and a half years later, a healthy, happy 8-year-old doing everything he should be doing. The treatment Logan received is how every patient should be treated in the future.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs who are just starting their journey?

1) Surround yourself with the right people, with the right motivations, and the right attitudes.

2) Swing for the fences every time you step up to the plate.

3) Invest time and energy in building your network.

4) Don't be afraid to ask for help from your network.

5) See the right investors.

6) Be prepared to kiss a lot of frogs in your journey, but by doing so you will instantly recognize when you've met your princess/prince.

7) Being an entrepreneur is hard. You'll never work harder, have more fun, and make less money in your entire life. But be ready for the long haul.

8) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

9) Fear is the enemy of innovation. Have a healthy and realistic respect for the challenges facing any innovation or disruption, but don't have fear.

10) Believe in yourself and your team, and expect together you will change the world.

Are there any lessons you've learned along the way that you wish someone had shared with you when you started?

Surround yourself with people who share the same values as you and your company. Identify the company's North Star and stay on that course. It is easy to be distracted if you try to champion every cause.

Why did you want to do an accelerator, and why did you choose Techstars?

For us, Techstars was like the Super Bowl of accelerators, so we always swung for the fences. We saw that the detailed elements of the program were really the final things we needed to launch our company.