Radiomer Therapeutics has launched under Fannin Partners with an undisclosed amount of seed funding. Photo via Getty Images

Fannin Partners has done it again. The Houston-based life science development group behind medtech companies Procyrion and Allterum Therapeutics announced yesterday that it has launched Radiomer Therapeutics. With an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding, Radiomer joins the $242 million-strong Fannin portfolio.

Radiomer uses Fannin’s proprietary Raptamer platform to target vectors and ligands for theranostic application. The cancer-fighting technology is a targeting agent that can address serious maladies including breast, lung, colorectal, prostate, and head and neck cancers.

And with Radiomer’s launch, Fannin is moving with its trademark aggressiveness. Lead programs expected to complete Phase 0 imaging/dosimetry trial(s) in cancer patients in the first quarter of next year. Those will be closely followed by therapeutic programs.

“Raptamers combine antibody level affinities with desirable physical and pharmacokinetic properties, and a rapid path to clinic,” Dr. Atul Varadhachary, CEO of Radiomer Therapeutics and Fannin managing partner, says in a press release. “We are deploying this unique platform to develop novel therapies against attractive first-in-class oncology targets.”

Varadhachary has operated Radiomer in stealth mode since its 2023 inception. However, Raptamer has been in the company’s portfolio since 2019. The new company has been using the platform to generate data with the rights to radiopharmaceutical applications for the past year.

“Our lead programs include Radiomers targeting both well-established and first-in-class cancer targets,” adds Dr. Phil Breitfeld, Radiomer’s chief medical officer. “Our imaging/dosimetry trials are designed to provide clinical evidence of tumor targeting and biodistribution information, positioning us to rapidly initiate a therapeutic program(s) if successful.”

For over a decade, Fannin has developed and supported promising life science innovations by garnering grant funding and using its team of expert product developers to build out the technology or treatment. The life science innovation timeline is very different from a software startup's, which can get to an early prototype in less than a year.

"In biotech, to get to that minimally viable product, it can take a decade and tens of millions of dollars," Varadhachary said on the Houston Innovators Podcast earlier this year.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Aziz Gilani of Mercury, Yaxin Wang of the Texas Heart Institute, and Atul Varadhachary of Fannin Innovation. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.


Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

"Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption." Read more.


Yaxin Wang, director of the Texas Heart Institute's Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. Photo via texasheart.org

The United States Department of Defense has awarded a grant that will allow the Texas Heart Institute and Rice University to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation and are a long-term option in end-stage heart failure.

The grant is part of the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). It was awarded to Georgia Institute of Technology, one of four collaborators on the project that will be designed and evaluated by the co-investigator Yaxin Wang. Wang is part of O.H. “Bud” Frazier’s team at Texas Heart Institute, where she is director of Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. The other institution working on the new LVAD is North Carolina State University.

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. As Wang explained to us last year, an LVAD is a minimally invasive device that mechanically pumps a person’s own heart. Frazier claims to have performed more than 900 LVAD implantations, but the devices are far from perfect. Read more.

Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin Innovation

Atul Varadhachary also serves as CEO and president of Allterum Therapeutics. Photo via LinkedIn

Allterum Therapeutics, a Houston biopharmaceutical company, has been awarded a $12 million product development grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

The funds will support the clinical evaluation of a therapeutic antibody that targets acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common childhood cancers.

However, CEO and President Atul Varadhachary, who's also the managing director of Fannin Innovation, tells InnovationMap, “Our mission has grown much beyond ALL.” Read more.

The funds will support the clinical evaluation of a therapeutic antibody that targets acute lymphoblastic leukemia, one of the most common childhood cancers. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup scores $12M grant to support clinical evaluation of cancer-fighting drug

fresh funding

Allterum Therapeutics, a Houston biopharmaceutical company, has been awarded a $12 million product development grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

The funds will support the clinical evaluation of a therapeutic antibody that targets acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common childhood cancers.

However, CEO and President Atul Varadhachary, who's also the managing director of Fannin Innovation, tells InnovationMap, “Our mission has grown much beyond ALL.”

The antibody, called 4A10, was invented by Scott Durum PhD and his team at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Licensed exclusively by Allterum, a company launched by Fannin, 4A10 is a novel immunotherapy that utilizes a patient’s own immune system to locate and kill cancer cells.

Varadhachary explained that while about 80 percent of patients afflicted with ALL have the B-cell version, the other 20 percent suffer from T-cell ALL.

“Because the TLL population is so small, there are really no approved, effective drugs for it. The last drug that was approved was 18 or 19 years ago,” the CEO-scientist said. 4A10 addresses this unmet need, but also goes beyond it.

Because 4A10 targets CD127, also known as the interleukin-7 receptor, it could be useful in the treatment of myriad cancers. In fact, the receptor is expressed not just in hematological cancers like ALL, but also solid tumors like breast, lung, and colorectal cancers. There’s also “robust data,” according to Varadhachary for the antibody’s success against B-cell ALL, as well as many other cancers.

“Now what we're doing in parallel with doing the development for ALL is that we're continuing to do additional preclinical work in these other indications, and then at some point, we will raise a series A financing that will allow us to expand markets into things which are much more commercially attractive,” Varadhachary explains.

Why did they go for the less commercially viable application first? As Varadhachary put it, “The Fannin model is to allow us to go after areas which are major unmet medical needs, even if they are not necessarily as attractive on a commercial basis.”

But betting on a less common malady could have a bigger payoff than the Allterum team originally expected.

Before the new CPRIT grant, Allterum’s funding included a previous seed grant from CPRIT of $3 million. Other funds included an SBIR grant from NCI, as well as another NCI program called NExT, which deals specifically with experimental therapies.

“To get an antibody from research into clinical testing takes about $10 million,” Varadhachary says. “It's an expensive proposition.”

With this, and other nontraditional financing, the company was able to take what Varadhachary called “a huge unmet medical need but a really tiny commercial market” and potentially help combat a raft of other childhood cancers.

“That's our vision. It's not economically hugely attractive, but we think it's important,” says Varadhachary.

Atul Varadhachary is the managing director of Fannin Innovation. Photo via LinkedIn

OncoResponse in partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center received a portion of $73 million the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has doled out this spring. Photo via oncoresponse.com

Seattle biotech co. to move to Houston thanks to $13.3M grant from Texas organization

CPRIT funding spotted

A biotech company has landed a more than $13 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The nearly $13.3 million grant given to OncoResponse — which is relocating from Seattle to Houston, according to CPRIT's news release — will help the company develop fully human monoclonal antibodies for treatment of cancer that otherwise would not respond to immunotherapy. OncoResponse already has a partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is one of the company’s investors.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition from CPRIT in supporting the potential of our immunotherapy candidate OR502. We greatly appreciate the additional support from our investors as we continue to make significant progress with our drug development efforts advancing immunotherapies derived from clues of Elite Responders,” says Clifford Stocks, CEO of OncoResponse, in a news release.

Aside from the grant, OncoResponse just hauled in $14 million from existing investors in a round led by RiverVest Venture Partners. Other participants in the series D round include Venture Partners, Canaan Partners, 3B Future Health Fund, Bering Capital, Takeda Ventures, and InterVest Capital Partners.

To date, OncoResponse has raised more than $180 million, according to market research company CB Insights.

A representative of OncoResponse couldn’t be reached for comment about the company’s relocation to Houston.

MD Anderson and Seattle-based Theraclone Sciences launched OncoResponse in 2015. Rice University was among the inaugural investors.

OncoResponse’s OR2805 immunotherapy product is being evaluated in a Phase 1 clinical trial. It’s the company’s leading immunotherapy candidate. OncoResponse is also working on OR502, an antibody being prepared for investigational and clinical studies.

“The modern treatment of cancer activates the body’s own immune system to attack cancer,” OncoResponse says in a summary posted on the website of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

“These treatments, called immunotherapy, may not be successful if the cancer can recruit bad-acting cells, such as tumor associated macrophages, or TAMs, that create barriers preventing immunotherapies from activating the body’s own defenses against the cancer. To find drugs that may help counteract these TAMs, OncoResponse looked to patients who had responded very well to immunotherapy to see if their bodies made factors to block TAMs and helped them fight their cancers.”

OncoResponse’s OR502 prevents TAMs from shutting down the body’s response to cancer, thus restoring tumor-killing immune activity, CPRIT explains.

In addition to OncoResponse, recent CPRIT grant recipients from the Houston area are:

  • Houston-based 7 Hills Pharma, $13,439,001. The company is working on immunotherapies for treatment of cancer and prevention of infectious diseases.
  • Houston-based Allterum Therapeutics, $11,721,150. The company is coming up with an antibody for treatment of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This type of cancer affects blood and bone marrow.
  • Houston-based Cell Therapy Manufacturing Center, $9.1 million. The center is a joint venture between National Resilience and MD Anderson Cancer Center that is developing cell therapy manufacturing technologies to support biotech partnerships.
  • Houston-based Pulmotect, $8,851,165. The company’s PUL-042 product is aimed at treating and preventing respiratory complications in cancer patients.
  • Cancer researcher Michael King, $6 million. The grant helped lure King to Rice from Nashville’s Vanderbilt University, where he’s been the chair of biomedical engineering. King’s lab at Vanderbilt has been testing therapies for metastatic breast cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Missouri City-based OmniNano Pharmaceuticals, $2,711,437. The pharmatech company is working on two drugs for treatment of solid tumors in patients with pancreatic cancer.

“Texas is unique because of CPRIT’s ability to invest in cutting-edge research when private capital is scarce. This is yet another way Texas is leading the nation in the fight against cancer,” Wayne Roberts, CEO of CPRIT, says in a news release.

Allterum Therapeutics Inc., a portfolio company of Fannin Innovation Studio, is using the funds to prepare for clinical trials. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biotech startup raises millions to battle pediatric cancer

fresh funds

Allterum Therapeutics Inc. has built a healthy launchpad for clinical trials of an immunotherapy being developed to fight a rare form of pediatric cancer.

The Houston startup recently collected $1.8 million in seed funding through an investor group associated with Houston-based Fannin Innovation Studio, which focuses on commercializing biotech and medtech discoveries. Allterum has also brought aboard pediatric oncologist Dr. Philip Breitfeld as its chief medical officer. And the startup, a Fannin spinout, has received a $2.9 million grant from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas.

The funding and Breitfeld's expertise will help Allterum prepare for clinical trials of 4A10, a monoclonal antibody therapy for treatment of cancers that "express" the interleukin-7 receptor (IL7R) gene. These cancers include pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and some solid-tumor diseases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted "orphan drug" and "rare pediatric disease" designations to Allterum's monoclonal antibody therapy.

If the phrase "monoclonal antibody therapy" sounds familiar, that's because the FDA has authorized emergency use of this therapy for treatment of COVID-19. In early January, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced the start of a large-scale clinical trial to evaluate monoclonal antibody therapy for treatment of mild and moderate cases of COVID-19.

Fannin Innovation Studio holds exclusive licensing for Allterum's antibody therapy, developed at the National Cancer Institute. Aside from the cancer institute, Allterum's partners in advancing this technology include the Therapeutic Alliance for Children's Leukemia, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital, Children's Oncology Group, and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Although many pediatric patients with ALL respond well to standard chemotherapy, some patients continue to grapple with the disease. In particular, patients whose T-cell ALL has returned don't have effective standard therapies available to them. Similarly, patients with one type of B-cell ALL may not benefit from current therapies. Allterum's antibody therapy is designed to effectively treat those patients.

Later this year, Allterum plans to seek FDA approval to proceed with concurrent first- and second-phase clinical trials for its immunotherapy, says Dr. Atul Varadhachary, managing partner of Fannin Innovation Studio, and president and CEO of Allterum. The cash Allterum has on hand now will go toward pretrial work. That will include the manufacturing of the antibody therapy by Japan's Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, which operates a facility in College Station.

"The process of making a monoclonal antibody ready to give to patients is actually quite expensive," says Varadhachary, adding that Allterum will need to raise more money to carry out the clinical trials.

The global market for monoclonal antibody therapies is projected to exceed $350 billion by 2027, Fortune Business Insight says. The continued growth of these products "is expected to be a major driver of overall biopharmaceutical product sales," according to a review published last year in the Journal of Biomedical Science.

One benefit of these antibody therapies, delivered through IV-delivered infusions, is that they tend to cause fewer side effects than chemotherapy drugs, the American Cancer Society says.

"Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced molecules engineered to serve as substitute antibodies that can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system's attack on cancer cells. They are designed to bind to antigens that are generally more numerous on the surface of cancer cells than healthy cells," the Mayo Clinic says.

Varadhachary says that unlike chemotherapy, monoclonal antibody therapy takes aim at specific targets. Therefore, monoclonal antibody therapy typically doesn't broadly harm healthy cells the way chemotherapy does.

Allterum's clinical trials initially will involve children with ALL, he says, but eventually will pivot to children and adults with other kinds of cancer. Varadhachary believes the initial trials may be the first cancer therapy trials to ever start with children.

"Our collaborators are excited about that because, more often than not, the cancer drugs for children are ones that were first developed for adults and then you extend them to children," he says. "We're quite pleased to be able to do something that's going to be important to children."

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Houston innovator drives new accelerator toward supporting promising bioindustrial startups

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 238

Bioindustrial technologies have a high potential for impacting sustainability — but they tend to need a little bit more help navigating the startup valley of death. That's where the BioWell comes in.

Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, says the idea for the accelerator was came to First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based biomanufacturing investment firm, as it began building its portfolio of promising companies.

"While we were looking at various companies, we found ourselves finding different needs that these startups have," Estrada says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's how the opportunity for the BioWell came about."

Specifically, bioindustrial companies, which are tapping into life science innovation to create more sustainable products or services, need early funding, lab space, and strategic corporate partners to help research and develop their startups.

"The very direct challenge that we are seeing is that these companies very often have to spend their funds to build out their own lab spaces," Estrada says, "so by the time they're trying to focus back on the product itself, they are starting to run out of funding."

BioWell is currently selecting its inaugural cohort and is also actively searching for its physical location to build out the program and facilities. Last year, BioWell secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

In addition to solving for specific challenges bioindustrial companies face, Estrada says the program will provide support for general startup and entrepreneurial guidance, like business plan development, navigating investors and grant funding, and more.

Just as First Bight Ventures was founded strategically in Houston to make the most of the local resources, the BioWell will operate out of the Bayou City — a market Estrada says has everything the industry needs.

"We have the right talent — our universities produce great researchers. We have the energy companies that are utilizing (a workforce) with transferable skills," he says on the show. "We also have the infrastructure, the square footage, and various real estate companies creating shells for lab space. We have the know how, the universities, and all at a lower cost, which plays a big role in the equation."

16 digital health, medical device companies selected for UK, TMC accelerator

coming to Hou

For the second time, an accelerator backed by the United Kingdom and hosted by Texas Medical Center Innovation has named 16 companies to its new cohort.

In partnership with Innovate UK, TMC named the new cohort companies in an announcement this week. The companies are divided into two categories — digital health and medical device — and cover a wide range of specialties, from diagnostics and AI monitoring to non-surgical management and more.

The accelerator launched last year with its inaugural cohort with the mission of helping companies make their United States expansion by way of the TMC.

"The first cohort of startups in our accelerator program experienced TMC's capabilities in developing and advancing solutions through cross-collaboration with top minds in clinical care, commercialization and innovation," Devin Dunn, head of the Accelerator for Health Tech at TMC, says in a news release. "We are excited to continue our partnership with Innovate UK and welcome this second cohort to continue our efforts advancing life sciences technologies across the globe."

This year's program begins June 4 and will run through November. According to the TMC, last year's cohort had significant success tapping into the health tech ecosystem in Houston, including engaging with investors, setting up a go-to-market strategy, and making inaugural U.S.-based hires.

“Our Global Incubator Programme selects driven and ambitious innovators looking to scale their technologies globally," adds Jon Hazell, partnership manager for the North America and Global Incubator at Innovate UK. "We are excited for our second cohort of startups to join the programme, supported by the Texas Medical Center accelerator, where world-class mentors and programming will help our entrepreneurs understand and meet the requirements of different markets, and build the necessary partnerships, collaborations, and networks, facilitating their entry into global markets."

The selected medical device companies — and their technologies, as described by the TMC — include:

  • Cytecom – infectious diagnostic test, powered by cutting-edge optical electrophysiology, detects resistant bacteria in just 45 seconds, enabling doctors to prescribe targeted antibiotics in minutes instead of days
  • Heartfelt Technologies Ltd – the future of heart failure telemonitoring an automatic, AI supported, non-contact telemonitoring solution for heart failure patients
  • Neurovalens Ltd – creates wearable neurostimulaton devices that treat a range of conditions in an entirely non-invasive and drug-free way
  • Oxford Medical Products Limited – a proprietary hydrogel pill that acts as a non-surgical, non-pharmacological obesity treatment that will redefine the obesity treatment market
  • Phenutest – a rapid point-of-care diagnostic test for urinary tract infection, that confirms infection and appropriate antimicrobial to prescribe within 60 minutes
  • Plexaa – world's first fully wearable, sensor controlled, bra insert that can deliver safe supraphysiological preconditioning to the breast skin the night before surgery at home
  • SolasCure Limited – a wound Gel that acts as a single, effective and easy-to-use solution to overcome the challenges to transform chronic wound care
  • Trueinvivo Limited – a proprietary dosimetry (radiation measurement) system to ensure the precision and accuracy of cancer radiotherapy

The selected digital health companies — and their technologies, as described by the TMC — include:

  • Axon Diagnostics – offers a suite of solutions to support the needs of modern day diagnostic imaging services, supporting happier lives for clinicians and helping deliver better diagnostic care for all
  • Kheiron Medical Technologies – regarded as a world leader in the development of AI-enabled cancer diagnostics and monitoring
  • KiActiv – a technology-enabled digital health model for behaviour change and self-care that rethinks exercise and makes everyday movement an effective personalized medicine for better clinical outcomes
  • Memory Lane Games – turns memories into games, offering care providers a simple, fun dementia engagement app designed to trigger positive memories and improve socialisation with caregivers and people living with dementia
  • NeuroVirt Limited – combines immersive VR, AI and computer vision to gamify rehabilitation and quantify patient impairment and improvement
  • Newton’s Tree – enables healthcare providers to procure, integrate, and monitor third party AI products as part of routine care pathways through its enterprise AI platform
  • SERG Technologies – uses patented sensor technology and artificial intelligence to transform disease management into a continuous, data driven, and patient specific approach for people with Parkinson’s
  • Thymia – leverages speech, video, and behavioral analytics gathered via specially designed video games to diagnose conditions like depression, anxiety, and ADHD, alongside critical symptoms like fatigue, mood fluctuations, and memory issues, creating novel mental health biomarkers
The partnership between the U.K. and TMC began in 2018 as a biobridge between the two entities. TMC has expanded into new biobridges with other countries — most recently with The Netherlands — and also has a Danish accelerator that's also running its second cohort this summer.