5 Durham Startups Contending in LaunchBio’s Big Pitch

LaunchBio is hosting The Big Pitch, a virtual quick pitch competition for the most promising startups in the U.S.

CasTag Biosciences, Immvention Therapeutix, PhosphoGam, Praetego and TreeCo have been selected by the community to represent North Carolina's up-and-coming life sciences talent.

Each startup will submit a pre-recorded pitch which the judges and audience will view live during the virtual pitch event on August 6. Judges will select the winner with the strongest pitch and most promising product idea.

The Durham Pennant winner will advance to the National Championship, where it will compete with the winning startups from Cambridge and San Diego. The official winner will be awarded the grand prize on August 20.

Durham Competitors

CasTag Biosciences Inc.

CasTag biosciences

CasTag Biosciences provides custom CRISPR Knock-In research kits for functional study of proteins of interest in cells or tissue. Proteins are labeled endogenously with antibody epitope tags or fluorescent proteins to visualize them with unprecedented specificity and ease. CasTag scientists' complete vector design and reagents come prepackaged in Adeno-associated virus (AAVs) for immediate usage, effectively cutting down customers' development time.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center portfolio company has raised enough money with its NCBiotech loan to hire a recent Fuqua Business School graduate as the business development lead, and a former postdoc to run the lab part-time while he looks for a job in industry.

IMMvention Therapeutix Inc.

Immvention Therapeutix

Durham-based IMMvention Therapeutix is focused on improving the lives of patients with inflammatory diseases of huge unmet needs such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, and Alzheimer’s. A portfolio company of the by North Carolina Biotechnology Center, IMMvention is discovering and developing first-in-class therapies that inhibit the inflammation caused by activation of inflammasomes. The company’s platform involves creation of small-molecule inhibitors of multiple inflammasome receptors, to improve upon the current first-generation single receptor inflammasome inhibitors. IMMvention is initially targeting rare inflammatory diseases such as Still’s disease, affecting people with systemic arthritis, and COVID-19-associated hyper-inflammation that leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome and mortalities. IMMvention was co-founded in 2017 by scientists from the School of Medicine and Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. IMMvention has been funded to date with NCBiotech loan support, NIH SBIR grants/contracts, and pharmaceutical company collaborations.  The company is raising its first venture funding to progress its novel small-molecule preclinical therapeutics pipeline to the clinic.

The company has initiated program exploration in controlling/suppressing COVID-19- related “cytochrome storm syndrome (CSS)”/Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome that causes fatalities. Recent evidence shows that COVID-19 cytokine storm is similar to many hyper-inflammatory diseases the company was already exploring with its multi-inflammasome inhibitors.

PhosphoGam Inc.

PhosphoGamPhosphoGam, another NCBiotech portfolio company, is developing allogeneic cell immunotherapies using gamma/delta T-cells to treat a variety of cancers. 

NCBiotech awarded the Durham startup a $250,000 Small Business Research Loan in 2018 to support preclinical proof-of-concept studies in mice. The cell therapy company is focused on exploiting the potent antitumor activity of human gamma/delta T cells for the cellular immunotherapy of cancer

Praetgo Inc.

PraetegoPraetego is an early stage pharmaceutical company focused on glucose dysregulation. Praetego’s novel small molecules, Amadorins, offer the possibility of systemic protection from glucose damage.

The Amadorins, developed through a proprietary assay, inhibit formation of advanced glycation end products at the earliest stages. They play an important role in diabetic complications like retinopathy, nephropathy, neuropathy, cardiomyopathy and in some other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

By interrupting the cascade at the first step of oxidative breakdown, Amadorins offer the greatest promise of protection by limiting disease progression. The Praetego leadership team pioneered the research leading to the discovery of Amadorins and offers extensive technical and operational experience in developmental stage drug companies.


TreeCoTreeCo, founded by two North Carolina State University researchers, is setting out to revolutionize the forestry industry by combining insights from tree genetics with the power of genome editing. The company identified several unique gene targets that could confer significant trait improvements in stress resistance, or for improved conversion of wood into a particular fiber or chemical product.


LaunchBio’s Big Pitch is sponsored by Novocure and Scientist


Lindsey Baron, NCBiotech Writer
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