Life Science Companies Pitch Their Wares

Ann Whitaker Novoclem Therapeutics
Anne Whitaker, president and CEO of Novoclem
Therapeutics speaking at the CED Life Science Conference

As CEO of Durham startup Novoclem Therapeutics, long-time pharmaceutical executive Anne Whitaker says she’s involved in a personal battle.

By leading a fight against cystic fibrosis (CF), an inherited lung disease that kills most victims in their first four decades of life, Whitaker is battling family history.

Growing up in Alabama, she said, she often would see her parents stress when she or her siblings would develop a cough or other illness. They were especially concerned because Whitaker lost cousins in childhood to CF. Fortunately, Whitaker’s immediate family escaped the scourge of CF. Which leaves her able to put up a healthy fight against it.

“In some ways we’ve made great progress,” she told attendees at the CED Life Science Conference in Raleigh. “When I was born, a CF child might live to age 12. Today it’s into their 40s. But lung infection remains a major problem in CF.”

Now, leading a company with a nitric oxide-based antimicrobial that might be a significant new weapon against the ravages of CF, Whitaker is especially energized. With 10 million people in the U.S. alone believed to be CF gene carriers, no cure and relatively few good therapeutic options, Whitaker believes Novoclem has a unique technology that can deliver effective antimicrobial protection to CF sufferers’ lungs with a simple inhaler device.

CF patients’ lungs fill with sticky mucus, an environment for bacteria to grow and form biofilms that are especially difficult to treat. CF patients take antibiotics chronically, which often leads to multi-drug resistance.

The story of Novoclem represents the theme of the 2018 conference, “#InnovationDelivers A Better Tomorrow,” in which CED, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and NCBIO again partnered for an annual showcase of hot new life science companies from North Carolina and beyond.

A wide range of other North Carolina life science entrepreneurs pitched their companies on Tuesday, the first day of the two-day conference, including:

  • Adam Wax, president and chief scientist of Durham-based Lumedica, who described his company’s development of an easy-to-use instrument that could be available to optometrists for under $10,000 to diagnose major eye diseases such as retinopathy. The company has sold a research version of the device for the past year, and it’s now looking for funding to secure regulatory approvals and scale-up for global access to a $500 billion market.
  • Philippe Chemla, MBA, Ph.D., CEO of Durham diagnostic device company Clinical Sensors, who described his company’s work on a point-of-care sensor to measure sepsis, a potentially lethal blood infection. The company has received early funding from NCBiotech and raised more than $4 million from other sources. The technology is being evaluated at the UNC Burn Center, he said, and he’s on the prowl for additional funding to get the system into the marketplace because sepsis kills more people than prostate, lung and breast cancer combined.
  • Russell Thomas, CEO of Durham’s NIRvana Sciences, which is also an NCBiotech portfolio company, said his company is soon to begin a Series B funding round to expand its business in developing red and near infrared fluorescent dyes for use in diagnostics and imaging applications. He said the company is hoping for an exit in the next three years.
  • Richard Spero co-founder and CEO of Redbud Labs, also an NCBiotech portfolio company, said the company has raised nearly $7 million so far and plans a Series A round of funding in 2018. The UNC spinout has developed a unique diagnostic tool called Redbud Posts, a micro-electromechanical system technology conceived in Professor Richard Superfine’s research group to mimic the behavior of cilia, the microscopic hair-like structures used to manipulate fluids in a wide range of organisms, from bacteria to cells lining the human airway.
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