Ideas Flow at 2014 Life Science Conference
Three young bioscience companies started with funding and other help from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center wowed the crowd at today’s opening of the 2014 CED Life Science Conference in Raleigh.
They were among five companies presenting at the Innovation Showcase, scheduled immediately before the official opening of the conference to give selected entrepreneurs 10 minutes each to pitch their wares to a panel of experts in an officially non-financial environment. Investors, however, were in the audience.
BioKier co-founder, president and COO Roger Nolan, Ph.D., explained how the company is conducting clinical tests on an oral drug for Type 2 diabetes that releases its payload in the colon, activating a cascade of biological events that halts the diabetes.
He described it as a way to use safe, common medicinal chemicals in a kind of “topical” application on the gut wall. They’re absorbed by receptors that activate the diabetes-beating cascade. The process is designed to mimic the anti-diabetes effect that has been discovered in people who have bariatric weight-loss surgery – but without the physical trauma and cost of surgery.
NCBiotech awarded BioKier two separate $250,000 loans, one in 2010 and the other in 2013, and the firm has subsequently landed a $1.7 million funding package from Broadview Ventures and the American Heart Association’s Science & Technology Accelerator Program.
CanDiag, a UNC Charlotte spinoff, was recently awarded a $182,053 Small Business Research Loan from NCBiotech to help it develop its novel blood test for early breast cancer detection. Co-founder and CEO Pinku Mukherjee, Ph.D., said her young company hopes to launch its first product by the end of 2015, then plan to move on to market a prostate cancer test kit using the same technology.
She noted that CanDiag’s test kit could save some $9 billion a year in diagnostic costs alone, while improving the speed and accuracy of cancer testing.
What’s more, the company is also looking at cancer therapeutics based on their same propriety technology. She said they hope to use the antibody that serves as a cancer detection “flag” to also carry drugs to cancer cells.
CanDiag sees “a huge market for other cancers, but we’re staying focused to get FDA approval as soon as possible,” said Mukherjee.
Though this year’s conference theme focused on the future of health care, Nova Synthetix brought another side of biotech to the Raleigh Convention Center crowd.
David McElroy, COO and vice president of business development for the young Chapel Hill agricultural biotechnology company, noted that a $50,000 Company Inception Loan from NCBiotech in 2013 is helping it develop its first product -- a non-toxic castor plant to replace the toxic ones now in use for creating feedstock for chemicals and biofuels.
He noted that Nova Synthetix hopes to interest major seed companies in buying its technology and apply it to many kinds of crops – especially those that might be difficult to sell as genetically modified products such as wheat and rice.
McElroy also said the company hopes to help non-toxic castor to become a major new cash crop in the United States, significantly reducing the amount of fossil fuels needed to produce synthetics such as nylon. Processing castor into high-profit oils can also produce a feed mash for farm animals that can add some $400 an acre in value to farmers’ bottom line, he noted.
The other presenting companies included Improved Patient Outcomes and KinoDyn. Improved Patient Outcomes is a joint venture between Duke University and mobile health firm CellepathicRx, using technology to send patients messages to help them comply with medications and deal with other issues associated with some 90 diseases. KinoDyn is a cancer diagnostic and drug discovery company built on a proprietary technology from UNC at Chapel Hill. It “chases” fast-changing cancer cells to kill them before they can change identity.