A cheaper and faster way to detect breast cancer, a drug that eliminates or improves diabetes and a method of modifying genes in crops to someday remove allergens from foods.
Read these ideas one more time and you’ll realize the life-changing potential of some of the innovation in life science happening in this region and around the state.
One of our goals at ExitEvent is to cover a broader section of the entrepreneurial community—from software developers to textile manufacturers to craft breweries to drug developers—with the only caveat being that they have high-growth potential and national or international-in-scale plans.
The CED Life Science Conference last week gave me the perfect opportunity to dive into some of the region’s best opportunities in life sciences. It can be difficult to attend events like this—the presenters are talking to a highly scientific audience, not a bunch of entrepreneurs in different industry sectors (or a reporter without a PhD).
But these founders have a lot in common with those in less-scientific industries. They’re trying to disrupt multi-billion dollar industries. They’re inventing products that have to be tested, proven and sold. They’re recruiting teams capable of executing their vision.
And, they need to sell investors on a lot of promises.
So expect increasing coverage of startups tackling some atypical ExitEvent industries.
And in the meantime, read below about the four businesses that pitched in CED’s Innovation Showcase and have big plans ahead:
BioKier Inc. of Chapel Hill is based on two decades of diabetes and obesity research by CEO and PhD George Szewczyk, a former GlaxoSmithKline researcher, and co-founder Roger Nolan. They’ve developed a drug therapy that mimics the diabetes-eliminating effect of gastric bypass surgery in both obese and non-obese patients. If the drug hits the market in a few years, there could be fewer of the dangerous weight-loss surgeries and more people with cured or improved symptoms of diabetes. The team has raised about $2 million and has tested the drug in rats. Additional funding would allow for an initial set of drugs to be manufactured and a clinical trial implemented.
CanDiag has a pretty big target market too, any woman who requires a mammogram or a follow-up to a mammogram. That’s about 74 million women annually. And it represents a $9 billion opportunity. CanDiag was spun out of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and in partnership with cancer researchers at Duke University Medical Center. The company has created a blood test that is proving in clinical studies to more accurately and efficiently detect breast cancer, eliminating the need for ultrasounds, MRIs and biopsies in many women. Eventually, the test could be used to detect prostate and other cancers. Funds have already been provided by the National Institutes of Health and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and the test is on track for late 2015 FDA approval and launch.
Nova Synthetix is not in the healthcare industry, but its technology could impact the health of many. The Chapel Hill startup is targeting the agriculture industry with its genome editing tool to remove toxic ricin from castor seed oil, making the oil safer for growers and processors to handle. But Nova’s technology has even broader application down the road‚the founders believe they can also remove allergens from food without those foods being classified as genetically-modified. Founders David McElroy of Chapel Hill and Donald Walters of San Francisco (who is moving to town) met years ago while working for DeKalb Genetics and have come together to launch the business, with help from researchers at N.C. State University.
KinoDyn, Inc. is developing first-of-its-kind tests and drugs that better detect and fight some of the most difficult to treat cancers—initially, triple negative breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and drug-resistant leukemias. The company is based in Chapel Hill and is just a year old. It has yet to raise funds. Founders are Professors Gary Johnson and Lee Graves of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine and Jian Jin of the Division of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry at the university’s School of Pharmacy. Dr. Nathan Letts is the current CEO and an attorney at Pennie & Edmonds LLP in Durham and he calls the company’s technology ‘a game-changer in cancer diagnostics” with the potential “to revolutionize cancer drug discovery.”