URES 2011: Preview of 15 seed-stage Life Science finalists

Posted March 24th, 2011 in Boston Cluster

We’re excited to be presenting the University Research & Entrepreneurship Symposium 2011 (URES) next week – it’s one of the premier seed-stage and academic startup conferences in the country.  As chair of the Life Science track, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the great LS technologies/startups presenting before next week’s meeting.  There are also IT and clean energy tracks (from Bilal Zuberi) but I’ll stick to what I know.

The process to pick these presentors was incredibly competitive this year: we had ~60 life science proposals from nearly 25 institutions this year – well more than 2x the number from prior years.  The Steering Committee* helped select 15 of them to present based on a variety of attributes.  Fair to say it was a challenging selection process – many of the 45 we couldn’t pick were still very interesting.

Here’s the run-down of finalists:

Section 1, Track 1:  Drugs

  • RORyt: New York University.  Hot new drug target in controlling inflammation; work out of Dan Littman’s lab, this approach hits a key regulator of inflammatory T-cells (Th17) and apparently they’ve got interesting chemical matter from initial screening.
  • Restoring Normal Gut Flora: Mass General Hospital.  Novel approach to restoring the normal balance of gut bacteria via Intestinal Alkaline Phosphatase enzyme replacement therapy; potential treatment of C. diff. and other serious gut infections.  A pill a day could keep the bad bugs away.
  • Max BioPharma: UCLA.  Blocking the cutely named Hedgehog pathway has recently been shown to be an important approach in cancer therapy; this company plans to accomplish that via activation lipid metabolic pathways (LXR) using novel oxysterols, and has cool early data showing it could work.
  • Safe and Effective Treatments for Cough: Johns Hopkins University.  As Tom Hughes said during the review session, this is like “Botox for the lung”.  Not perfectly accurate, but it’s an interesting approach to calming down the receptors involved in triggering chronic, disabling cough.
  • OncoLyse. Harvard University.  This is a novel “Platform to Enhance Complement Activity” as a way of harnessing the body’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells.  Works by transient blocking of CD59, a negative regulator of complement, during antibody-based cancer treatment.

Section 1, Track 2:  Drug/Device

  • epiBone – Columbia University.  Developing the first personalized living human bone for reconstructive and regenerative graft applications.  Really cool next gen bone play with digital mapping.
  • Motion Compensated Catheter System: Harvard University.  The beating heart moves a lot, and during sophisticated heart surgery that’s a real issue for placement of catheters.  To address that critical need, these inventors have come up with a cool compensation system that makes real-time adjustments.
  • Qualiber: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  With their technology, RNAi delivery is solved.  At least for some applications it might be.  Interesting new nanoparticle strategy.
  • Silk Biomaterials: Tufts University.  Crazy as it sounds, they plan to exploit the unique properties of silk to stabilize and distribute vaccines and thermolabile drugs without the need of refrigeration and other complexities. Could solve a costly logistics problem for distribution, especially in the developing world
  • Modular Mineral- Binding Peptides That Promote New Bone Formation: University of Wisconsin- Madison.  Using small peptides conjugated to orthopedic devices, this project aims to create better bone growth to prevent implant failure.  Interesting drug-device convergence play. 

Section 2, Track 1:  Diagnostics and Tools

  • A Diagnostic Technology for Diabetes and Its Complications: Harvard University.  Managing diabetes is a huge medical challenge.  Glucose readings are too short, HbA1c is too long.  This project claims to have found the sweet spot: glycated CD59.  As a more sensitive Dx marker, could be a big help for diabetics
  • C.spec: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  Novel silica nanoparticle that homes into tumors for sentinel lymph node mapping via optical and PET techniques.  Could really help oncologists track tumors.
  • Isomark: University of Wisconsin- Madison.  ICU patients should breathe easy with this one around.  The company is creating the 1st breath-based diagnostic for early detection of systemic infection leading to sepsis. Could have huge life-saving and health economic value if it really works.
  • Nanobeam Biosensor: Harvard University.  Have you ever heard of “attomolar”?  Its 10-18 M. Like one atom per cell. Apparently this nanobeam label-free detection system is that sensitive by leveraging “light as a ruler”.  Could be much more sensitive and inexpensive than other label-free techniques.
  • HiLo Microscopy: Boston University.  This is a novel technology that retrofits any conventional light microscope to enable them to produce images similar to an expensive confocal microscope ($400K a piece) for a fraction of the cost ($10K).  This could transform the installed base of conventional microscopes.

So that’s the list of presenters – a very diverse and interesting set of projects/companies.  We’re looking forward to hearing more from them next Thursday!

Hoping that URES helps get a few of these financed in 2011.


* To call out the Steering Committee and thank them for their work in reviewing:

  • Mara Aspinall, CEO On-Q-ity
  • Katrine Bosley, CEO Avila Therapeutics
  • Mike Gilman, CEO Stromedix
  • Duncan Greenhalgh, Partner, Goodwin Procte
  • Tom Hughes, CEO Zafgen
  • Vicki Sato, Harvard University
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