This story is co-written with writer Amy Huffman.
We’re always inspired by the important work going on within the life science community across the state. Information technology, importantly, gives us tools to make our lives or companies more efficient or successful. These companies are solving some of our world’s most pressing health challenges with new drugs, tests, devices and software platforms.
Both industries make our region well-rounded when it comes to innovation, and attractive to outside investors and talent.
CED brought many of the state’s up-and-coming life science innovators on stage during its annual conference this week. We chose 10 of their companies to feature in the quick rundown below. CED is where many of these companies get their start and announce their intentions. Read along as they continue to make news in months and years to come.
And for more on the 2017 CED Life Science Conference, read our recap here.
This Durham-based medical device startup is tackling the leading cause of death in the U.S.: Sepsis.
They’ve taken loads of research that proves that fluids are essential to preventing and fighting sepsis, shock and hemorrhage and designed a device that rapidly infuses fluids into the body and is affordable. The initial LifeFlow device was approved by the FDA last year.
This team’s goal is to get LifeFlow into the hands of every emergency room physician around the world. Trials so far show it superior to IV bags and on par with costly power infusers. And 7400 units are already sold
Founder Mark Piehl is a pediatric intensivist at WakeMed in Raleigh and co-founder Luke Roush is managing partner at Sovereign’s Capital, a Silicon Valley fund that used to be based in Durham. He previously worked at TransEnterix and Liquidia Technologies. CEO Kyle Chenet also worked at Liquidia but most recently founded Lq3 Pharmaceuticals.
There are as many as four million cases of sepsis in the U.S. each year, and septic shock has an 80 percent mortality rate. The men believe they’ve found a way to save more lives, reduce the length of hospital stays and prevent time in the ICU. At the conference, they announced plans to raise up to $5 million series A round and to launch internationally in 2018.
A team of Duke University undergrads came together in 2015 after realizing the difficulty of monitoring chronic respiratory conditions like asthma.
One of the foursome suffered from the disease and her friends wanted to track her location, medical status and offer a way to quickly communicate if she had a flare up. They started work on a Bluetooth-connected mobile spirometer and companion mobile app for patients and doctors to capture lung data and provide/receive other monitoring and coaching. They’re calling it “FitBit for asthma”.
The market is huge. 450 million people worldwide suffer from disease like asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis—there are 50 million in the U.S. alone. That’s why they’ve brought in a veteran of the life science industry to help build the company. Rich Kindberg is acting CEO.
The disease isn’t monitored well—there are over 22 million visits to an ER each year. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the cost of poorly managed chronic respiratory disease at $76 billion.
A clinical trial is underway with solid results so far. The team hopes to secure FDA approval, raise money and begin to build a team.
For women with dense breast tissue, mammogram screenings miss their cancer diagnosis 50 percent of the time. But Charlotte-based OncoTab, Inc. founded in 2011, by Mayo Clinic alumna, Dr. Pinku Mukherjee developed a non-invasive blood test for this sub-set of women, to doublecheck the mammogram results and help detect or predict whether they have or will suffer from breast cancer up to two years before a mammogram catches the cancer.
This year, they’re seeking partnerships to accelerate adoption of the detection technology in the US, but also China and Japan where over 70 percent of women have dense breast tissue.
The company is also in the early stages of developing cancer therapies for breast and pancreatic cancers.
To combat those pesky bacterial infections that don’t cower to antibiotics and other treatments, Raleigh-based Agile Sciences has designed a novel approach. Rather than develop a new type of drug, the Agile Sciences team has created a way to disable the multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria’s communication systems, leaving them “like blind sitting ducks.” Then, the previously ineffective antibiotics and other drugs become effective and can defeat the MDRs.
The technology has been successfully tested on animals thus far. And once the testing and approval process is complete the team hopes the treatment can be used to combat MDRs, lung infections in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients, and chronic wound infections.
Founders are a pair of NC State University biochemistry professors. Director of Research Daina Zeng is pictured at the top of this story (credit: CED).
Validic certainly isn’t new to the main stage. The Durham company has raised $18.1 million in venture capital since its start in 2010 and has become a leader in helping healthcare providers easily collect data from patients’ wearable devices. But this year, new CEO Drew Schiller, a Validic co-founder, gave a real example of the company’s work from a recent pilot program.
The patient had Type II Diabetes and previously had to manually export blood sugar and insulin data from his blood tracking device, combine it all into one PDF, then send to his healthcare providers. Unfortunately, the data didn’t import into his provider’s system so the doctor would glance at the paperwork, then trash it.
Validic’s platform takes out three of the four steps in this inefficient process, and converts the data into a useful, actionable data set that the doctors can now use to track and monitor the patient’s health remotely.
Validic’s next big effort will be to connect these legacy devices and their data to providers.
Perhaps one of the most surprising inspirations for a new treatment was pitched by Neuro Pharmalogics’ David Muth: insect brains. This company is mimicking insects’ ability to survive oxygen deprivation and heat shock to develop treatments and therapies to combat rare neurological conditions and diseases.
One condition this startup is targeting is called, “Hemiplegic migraines.” These migraines can cause extreme paralysis on one side of the body, and some who suffer from the migraines experience as many as 15 per month.
A new company, Florida-based Neuro Pharmalogics is self-funded and in very early stage. The team hopes to complete a Phase 1 trial in three years.
This recent Groundwork Labs alum was co-founded by two UNC-Chapel Hill students to help physical therapists monitor and motivate patients as they complete their prescribed at-home exercises. Through the platform and mobile app, PTs can design and assign customized therapy routines, track patients’ progress and complete documentation.
The app reminds patients when to complete their exercises and includes how-to videos and post-exercise reporting. It also syncs with electronic medical records and doctors’ notes to save documentation time for orthopedics and therapists. The app isn’t available for download yet—a pilot is underway at UNC’s Sports Medicine Center—but the team is receiving direction from Dan Ariely and the team at Duke’s Center for Advanced Hindsight as a member of the 2016-2017 Startup Lab cohort.
At the conference, co-founder Vikram Sehuraman shared that the pilot is already doubling the typical rate of adherence for PT patients. After completion of the pilot, he expects to complete three additional pilots and then raise funds.
This Duke University founded software startup tries to prevent illness or complications from surgery by using machine learning and artificial intelligence to make predictions about patients’ health. It integrates with a doctor’s plan of care.
The digital health startup can determine, for example, which patients are at higher risk for a heart attack after surgery, which prompts doctors to start heart medications immediately after a procedure.
Co-founder Bora Chang says the startup’s biggest competition is IBM Watson, but the difference is that kelaHealth delivers important insights at the point of care so doctors can make the most educated clinical decisions in real time.
KelaHealth has been used by 40 physicians at Duke University with about 200 patients. Feedback so far is that the software enables quicker decision making without disrupting workflow. The team is part of this year’s Duke Startup Challenge, raising money now on Indiegogo to advance to the next round.
A big milestone happened last week for the Durham startup bringing a novel newborn screening technology to market. Its first product, called Seeker, received clearance from the FDA and will soon be used in labs around the world to screen for dozens of diseases just after a baby is born.
Next up is Finder, another newborn screening platform that allows testing to happen at the point-of-care. Its targeted to the two thirds of the world that don’t have access to labs.
The big picture for Baebies is that more than 100 million babies born each year around the world are not screened at birth, and there’s still not screening for diseases that have at least 100 FDA-approved therapies. That means later identification of problems and less ability to treat them. Baebies offers an affordable and accessible way to identify any abnormalities so doctors can diagnose and start treatment at birth, rather than waiting for symptoms to start later in life.
CEO Richard West sold his last company, Advanced Liquid Logic, to Illumina in 2013, and then licensed the Baebies technology back from the company for exclusive use in the field of pediatric diagnostics. West has raised $5 million of a $10 million series B round and expects to begin international distribution later this year, and to become profitable.
Meanwhile, Baebies has shipped more than a million tests so far, and saved 125 babies’ lives.
Dessert lovers, listen up. This Charlottesville, Va. food ingredient startup is bringing to market a kind of sweetener that tastes great and is easy to bake with but has actual health benefits, like prevention of tooth decay and treatment of Type II diabetes. While the natural sugar substitute, called Tagatose, isn’t necessarily new, what is novel is the way this company plans to mass produce it for the first time.
Existing tagatose is typically very expensive and in short supply. This company has a proprietary way to scale it, and potentially other ingredients, so it can be used in a wider variety of beverages and snacks.
CEO and co-founder Ed Rogers has years of experience in venture capital in southwest Virginia and in manufacturing in Birmingham.