Startups
Health / Startups

These Ph.D. students are turning a cancer test into a business

Camilo Vanegas and Elizabeth Weingartner entered a competition as Ph.D. students last year. Now they're forming Nanobernetics.

Jocelyn Harper. (Courtesy photo)
As Camilo Vanegas and Elizabeth Weingarter move through graduate school at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, they’re also learning about business. By starting one.

The third-year Ph.D. students were interested in entrepreneurship, taking available classes as the University of Maryland looks to create more startups in Baltimore. But they really dug in to learn about starting a business as part of a competition called the Nanotechnology Startup Challenge in Cancer. The competition is basically an accelerator program that gives participants access to technology that was invented within the National Institutes of Health. Then they have to come up with a plan to commercialize it.
Vanegas and Weingartner were recently selected among a slate of winners. That means they get to launch their startup, Nanobernetics. They’re taking a device that detects chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) to market.

The specific form of leukemia requires constant monitoring for a specific protein. Even if a patient is in remission. There is a big risk that the disease will appear again.
“We felt that CML specifically was a really great area for this technology to be implemented because there was this huge relapse rate,” Vanegas said.
The invention out of the University of Maryland and NIH creates a faster and more accurate way to test for the CML-related protein than is currently available. It uses carbon nanotube technology, but Vanegas and Weingartner say it could be operated by anyone with a high school education.
With UMB venture advisor Darryl Carter and IMET Assistant Director Nick Hammond as advisers, Vanegas and Weingarter completed a business and financial plans, as well as a pitch.
Now, as they form their startup, the focus is on incorporating, and negotiating for a license with NIH. They are looking at resources in Maryland that can help as they move toward a proof of concept.
They were among 10 teams selected to develop their startup out of 28 international entrants.

Companies: University of Maryland, Baltimore
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