UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a high school student, Akhil Alugupalli pushed a cart around hospitals, delivering stuffed animals, stress balls, and candy to cancer patients and their families. He also provided a friendly face and a willing ear.
“It was about making connections with the patients,” the Schreyer Honors Scholar said. “One thing I learned is that there’s a huge disconnect in terms of patient care and pharmaceutical companies that are making the drugs that are supposed to help them.”
Today, Alugupalli is hoping to bring cancer patients more choices for treatment and pain management.
The first-year student in the Eberly College of Science is the founder and CEO of SRIN Therapeutics Inc., a pharmaceutical company based in Philadelphia. The company is developing four pipeline drugs derived from cannabinoids — the naturally occurring compounds within cannabis — that can be used to combat the harsh effects of chemotherapy and can also be used to treat cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many other ailments.
“Patients deserve an option,” Alugupalli said, “and SRIN is going to give them that option.”
SRIN is currently conducting clinical trials and hopes to present its findings to the Food and Drug Administration within the next year.
“In order to get this available to patients, I have to prove it,” he said.
Alugupalli said his drugs are created solely from all-natural ingredients. His primary goal is to receive FDA approval and get his drugs on the market. Another, long-term goal is to combat the stigma attached to the marijuana plant from which they are derived.
“This plant has been demonized for many years,” he said. “It has gotten such a bad name.”
Alugupalli also worked as an emergency medical technician and saw firsthand some of the brutal consequences of the opioid epidemic. He learned that, unlike opioid pain medications, humans cannot overdose on cannabis. His desire to help ease patients’ physical pain and provide them with more cost-effective treatment options has driven him to create SRIN Therapeutics and lead a team of 15 that includes his father, Kishore Alugupalli, faculty member and director of the immunology program at the School of Pharmacy at Thomas Jefferson University, as its president, chief scientific officer, and chief research officer. He wants to have a global impact.
“You can’t be not obsessed about something and make it a reality,” he said.
Alugupalli said one of the reasons he chose Penn State and the Schreyer Honors College was his admiration for founder William A. Schreyer, who “created a college within Penn State that could foster so much potential for growth.” Alugupalli has already made connections with potential investors and Schreyer Scholar alumni who have similar experiences within the industry. He plans to major in biology, specializing in neuroscience, with the goal to attend medical school to continue studying the science of his product, but doesn’t intend to give up his role as CEO.
“My business is helping patients,” he said. “If I can save one person’s life, at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.”
About the Schreyer Honors College
The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.