Seven promising life science startups started off 2020 with a shot of support from two of the region’s health and economic development-minded orgs.
Launched in September 2020, AlphaLab Health is an initiative of Innovation Works, which also runs the AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear accelerator programs, and Allegheny Health Network. Those selected for the program’s cohorts receive early-stage funding of up to $100,000, access to mentorship and clinical expertise through AlphaLab’s network, and workspace that includes both wet and dry lab space at the Allegheny General Hospital Suburban Campus in Bellevue. Those offices remain closed due to the pandemic, but AlphaLab Health has tentative plans to open them for use in late 2021.
In April, AlphaLab Health announced the members of its first cohort, and on Wednesday, those seven startups presented their new pitches at the life science accelerator’s inaugural showcase.
Wednesday’s showcase marks the end of the six-month inaugural cohort, which started in January 2021. During the livestream, the seven startups pitched their plans to a virtual audience of investors, entrepreneurs and other community members, presenting a wide range of life science innovation, from pharmaceutical biotechnology to spatial systems pathology to telemedicine technology for ophthamology and neurology. Now done with the accelerator, the startups will go on to pursue further funding and growth strategies. The next AlphaLab Health cohort will start in mid-October 2021, with applications opening on June 21.
Below, meet the startups of the inaugural cohort, and watch their presentations here:
This biotechnology company develops pharmaceutical treatment for cytokine release syndrome (CRS) — sometimes referred to as the “cytokine storm” — which is the result of an overactive immune system response that can lead to serious inflammation. CytoAgents’ current lead drug candidate is GP1681, a pharmaceutical that can interrupt the cytokine amplification pathway, preventing an immune system overreaction.
So far, the company has completed Phase I clinical trials for GP1681 with positive results, and the Pittsburgh-based team led by CEO Teresa Whalen is now seeking a $25 million Series A funding round for Phase II trials, which will examine the efficacy of their drug against CRS symptoms induced by CAR-T cell therapy and COVID-19.
Emergence Dental improves bone grafting procedures with a medical device that uses metallic magnesium alloys to support bone regeneration while also safely resorbing into the body over a six-month time period. The company’s lead product seeks to resolve bone grafting’s relatively low success rate, and to reduce the cost and unpredictability of the procedure for oral surgeons and periodontists.
Pittsburgh’s Emergence Dental, led by CEO Andrew Brown, is now starting preclinical testing of its resorbable magnesium product for dental bone grafting.
Sarah Palya, CEO and founder of Valencia-based Gus Gear, initially developed her company’s line of products as a response to the challenges she faced in protecting her son’s central line, aka central venous catheter. Gus Gear’s flagship product, the Central Line Vest, secures a patient’s central line or catheter within a flexible vest to protect it from any accidental disruption or line breaks. The company also offers G-tube wraps, ostomy pouch covers, and line covers for similar protection.
With its products already used in 55 children’s hospitals, Gus Gear is now enrolling for a clinical trial to obtain a reimbursement code for the Central Line Vest, and is currently raising a seed round to support further business growth.
JuneBrain’s technology centers on a remote retinal imaging system that can help patients detect changes in their eye or brain health from home. Leveraging telemedicine practices that have become more popular during the pandemic, JuneBrain’s virtual reality mask device can detect and monitor diseases linked to retinal changes by performing a version of the optical coherence tomography test. Data collected from the device is then automatically shared with physicians, allowing them to regularly track retinal health and quickly diagnose diseases like multiple sclerosis or macular degeneration. The four-year-old company founded by Samantha Scott is based in Rockville, Maryland.
Using computer vision and machine learning, Sterile Vision tracks the use of surgical tools in the operating room to help identify places to reduce cost and streamline the tool sterilization and preparation processes. By monitoring tool use, Sterile Vision’s platform can pinpoint those that are rarely or never used by surgeons, and help eliminate unnecessary ones to help increase efficiency in the operating room and lower the cost of sterilization.
The Pittsburgh-based company was cofounded by Dr. Duken LaBaze and Dr. Stephen P. Canton. It’s currently working on market fit testing within the Allegheny Health Network.
As an improved mode of therapy for obstructive sleep apnea, sovaSage developed a product that leverages machine learning, computer vision and smartphones to improve CPAP mask fit. By creating a digital profile of a patient’s anatomical characteristics, behavioral sleep patterns and other relevant health information, sovaSage helps provide sleep apnea therapists with easy access to detailed patient information. The Pittsburgh company, cofounded by William Kaigler and Christian Kebekus, also developed face-modeling technology that allows users to take a selfie that can then be scanned to assess appropriate mask fit.
With their main product already used by durable medical equipment providers across the United States and Canada, sovaSage will further diversify their product line in the future.
Pittsburgh’s SpIntellx, cofounded by S. Chakra Chennubhotla and D. Lansing Taylor, uses spatial intelligence to better understand cell and tissue relationships in a way that improves pathology, or understanding the cause of a given disease, in precision medicine. In addition to the data collected through this platform, SpIntellx also employs explainable artificial intelligence (xAI) to help physicians and technicians understand the conclusions made by algorithms, so that medical professionals still remain in control of final decisions. So far, the company has two product platforms — TumorMapr and HistoMapr — that apply their proprietary technology to examining tumor progression and histological patterns, respectively.
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-