The Business of Global Health No. 8

Academic Start-up Opportunities On occasion, I notice announcements of technologies originating at academic institutions that could be the basis for start-up ventures in global health. Here are a few I have noted.

Last fall, Brown University announced that Jason Sello of its chemistry department and an undergrad, with help from groups at MIT and the University of Illinois, had identified a small molecule (beta-lactone 7) that inhibited a here-to-fore-uncommercialized enzyme target in tuberculosis bacteria (Fierce Biotech press release). In vitro tests indicated similar potency to streptomycin, a clinically used tuberculosis drug.

Francois Baneyx, a professor at the University of Washington, has developed a process that may result in “on demand” vaccines, according to a university newsletter (WU News). His group, with funding from a 2008 Gates Grand Explorations grant, immunized mice with a fusion protein consisting of a model antigen and a peptide (a calcium binding domain) that spontaneous forms mineral-like nanoparticles that are called “biomineralized calcium phosphate core-immunogen shell nanoparticles.” Theoretically, the simple process could be completed in the field with an antigen from a freeze-dried, portable supply. The work was published in Nanomedicine.

As reported in FierceDiagnostics, a team at the Peking Union Medical College invented an expensive, paper-based diagnostic for hepatitis C infection. The “patterned paper” device combines both an initial ELISA test and a confirmatory recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA), vastly decreasing time and cost.   Their paper appeared in Analytic Chemistry.

Start-Up Company News In a recent release in FierceBiotech, Synlogic, Inc., a Boston University spin-out founded in 2013, announced that the Gates Foundation had invested $5 million in its previously-held Series A round in which it raised $30 million from Atlas Ventures and New Enterprise Associates. The company is based on a platform to engineer therapeutic bacteria that was initially demonstrated by a project to engineer a probiotic to treat cholera and was funded in part by a 2012 Gates Grand Challenges Explorations grant. According to the release, “Synlogic will collaborate with the Gates Foundation on applications relevant to the developing world.”

New GE Healthcare CEO GE Healthcare, a very big player in the medtech industry with more than $15 billion in annual revenues, announced this week that John Flannery will be its new CEO. Mr. Flannery, among other roles in the company, is the former CEO of GE Healthcare India (FierceMedicalDevice story). The company is a leader in building emerging markets with a strategy that emphasizes local partnerships and development and manufacture of affordable products. Earlier this year, it announced involvement in a $120 million joint venture to build and supply a chain of 25 cancer detection and treatment centers across India (The Hindu article and FierceMedicalDevices story). It has also installing under contract its “FlexFactory” system for rapid biosimilar development and production in facilities in Taiwan and China (Business Wire story).

Rare (US) Disease Grants The USFDA recently announced the granting of $19 million to mostly academic groups for clinical studies on safety and/or effectiveness that may result in approval of the products for rare diseases (FDA News Release). While the large majority of the 15 grants went to projects aimed at US orphan diseases (those with fewer than 20,000 patients), one grant went to a Phase II study of a TB therapeutic and two went to trials for drugs for sickle cell anemia, a major factor child mortality in the developing world (see my post, “Still Neglected”). One of the two grants (approximately $1.6 million over four years) was given to AesRx, a Newton-MA based company that had received a previous grant and was purchased by Baxter International earlier this year.



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