NeoProgen, a Baltimore-based company led by medtech entrepreneur Bill Niland, raised $1.5 million in seed funding as it develops a cell therapy for patients following a heart attack.
The round featured an all-Maryland lineup of investors: The University System of Maryland’s Momentum Fund, which contributed $245,000; TEDCO; and UM Ventures, which is the commercialization arm of the University of Maryland.
Like his earlier venture, Harpoon Medical, NeoProgen has origins in research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. That’s where Dr. Sunjay Kaushal, a leading pediatric cardiac surgeon, found that a specific kind of stem cells are extremely effective in regenerating muscle tissue in the heart.
While they are normally discarded following surgery on infants with congenital heart disease, the regenerative properties of these still-growing cells can be particularly effective in healing, Niland said. They can be put to use to help patients who suffered a heart attack, a group of which 40% experience heart failure.
Through research studies, “what we’re seeing is that the cells greatly diminish the damage to the heart from the heart attack,” Niland said.
NeoProgen formed earlier this year, and licensed the technology from UMB. Now it’s working to develop a therapeutic. The cell therapy would be implemented within three to five days after a heart attack.
Niland points out that what’s recovered is the size of a tip of a pen.
“That’s a small piece of tissue, but we can get enough cells out of that to treat thousands and thousands of adult patients,” he said.
The company is working toward a 2020 clinical trial in Krakow, Poland, where the treatment would be tested on patients. With this round of funding supporting preclinical work, testing and manufacturing, the clinical trial would be funded through a Series A round. For now, the company is looking to continue bringing in biotech talent as it works in lab space at UMB.
For Niland, who led Harpoon to a nine-figure exit in 2017, it’s the second company to raise funding from local investors in the last year. ReGelTec, a medical device startup that was a RealLIST 2019 company, raised $2 million last year.
With the funding, investors said they are supporting a team with a proven track record, as well as a new kind of treatment.
“The NeoProgen team is strong with seasoned entrepreneurs and scientists, access to rare tissues, and a novel solution to heart failure,” said Claire Broido Johnson, managing director of the Momentum Fund, in a statement. “If they are successful, the company will pioneer a new treatment paradigm in heart failure, create jobs, and provide economic development to Baltimore.”
As with many therapeutics, however, reaching the market will take several years. After the trial in Europe, another clinical trial would be required in the U.S. before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would consider approve it for availability.
“Realistically, you’re probably talking five years away from that happening,” Niland said.
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