By Dr. Karen Ring, Big3Bio Events Correspondent
BayBio is giving promising life science Bay Area startups an edge with their Fellows All-Star Team (FAST) Advisory initiative, an eight-week program designed to accelerate companies into their next stages of growth.
Launched in 2013, FAST offers a team-based business advisory program that pairs aspiring entrepreneurs with seasoned veterans in the pharmaceutical and life science industries. BayBio celebrated the launch of its fourth cycle of FAST this week with its spring 2015 FAST Opening Pitch event. This year’s participants include Epibiome, GigaGen, Magnetic Insight, Purigen, and Vanguard Therapeutics.
Here’s a brief rundown on each startup:
Epibiome: CEO Nick Conley discussed how Epibiome is conducting precision microbiome engineering using bacterial viruses called bacteriophage. Bacteriophage are powerful tools that can be engineered to destroy specific pathogenic bacterial strains before they develop resistance to antibiotics and other drugs. Initially, Epibiome is focusing on the agricultural market and targeting bacterial pathogens that cause a debilitating disease in dairy cows called mastitis (which causes inflammation and reduces milk production). Epibiome has shown great promise already and they aim to raise their Series A financing within a year.
Gigagen: CEO Dave Johnson discussed how Gigagen is pursing the next generation of antibody therapeutics. Gigagen has developed a synthetic immunology platform that combines microfluidics, bioinformatics, and next generation sequencing technology to isolate and replicate natural human antibodies for the development of antibody therapeutics to treat serious human diseases. Johnson highlighted their recombinant intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy that can replace current human plasma-based IVIG therapies, which requires isolating antibodies from blood samples of thousands of human patients and carries the risk of viral contamination and supply shortages. Using their novel technology, Gigagen has generated recombinant DNA libraries of natural human antibodies and provides a much safer form of therapy that can be applied to more than 100 disease indications including primary immunodeficiency diseases. Johnson also emphasized that Gigagen is looking for Series A funding of around $12 million and is entering a global market valued at $7 billion that is growing at 8% per year.
Magnetic Insight discussed how its magnetic particle imaging (MPI) technology is “advancing limits of molecular imaging” and is the first transformative imaging platform since the discoveries of PET, CT, and MRI more than 30 years ago. Their technology images magnetic nanoparticles that are injected into the blood system and allows for deep penetration within animal tissue in real-time. Magnetic Insight is focusing their efforts in in vivo stem cell and immunology research, and they plan to target both the preclinical and clinical markets. On the preclinical side, they will market their technology to scientific labs with the promise of better imaging resolution, speed, and sensitivity. On the clinical side, they will first target the angiography market, which is currently valued at $27 billion, and then move into cancer detection and inflammation. Their goal is to launch their preclinical system within a year and their clinical system in 2018.
Purigen is making sample preparation for genomics easy by supplying an “all-in-one” automated platform for DNA and RNA sample preparation and enrichment. They have simplified the process by only requiring the user to load their sample onto a microfluidics-based chip, which purifies and quantifies nucleic acids by a process called isotachophoresis. The resulting product can be analyzed by variety of methods including microarray and next-generation sequencing. Purigen explained how they will enter the booming genomics market by selling their instruments to academic and industry labs with the future goal of developing diagnostic applications. Currently, they are at the alpha-prototype stage and are testing their machines in local labs. Purigen hopes to launch their product in 2016 after raising their Series A funding.
Vanguard Therapeutics, founded by Stephen Embury, is developing improved therapies to treat sickle cell anemia by normalizing blood flow. Patients with sickle cell disease experience a disruption in blood flow due to blockage by sickle-shaped blood cells that stick to the vascular endothelium (the inner lining of our circulatory system). Embury explained how current therapies to treat sickle cell disease do not address the issue of abnormal blood flow in patients. Vanguard’s strategy is to target P-selectin, a protein expressed on vascular endothelial cells that causes sickle cells to stick. They have developed an oral P-selectin blocker, which will permit normal blood flow in sickle cell patients. The company is currently in its early stages and has two active employees, but with a patient population of 89,000 in the US and 13 million globally, Vanguard is well positioned to succeed in the sickle cell disease market.
“Since FAST started in 2013, the participating companies have generated 40 jobs and raised over $27 million in funding,” said Steve Karp, senior program advisor for FAST. He further mentioned that the goal of the program is not focused on coaching startups on how to pitch to VCs, but rather to provide them with an experienced network to help them develop solid business and commercialization plans.
The FAST opener will be followed up with a final showcase and reception on June 9th.