Daniel Barvin has a neurodegenerative disease in his near future. He joined Houston-based Coya Therapeutics to help fight for a cure to the aggressively deadly ALS. Photo via Getty Images

We can never predict how our lives will turn out, but then maybe some of us can. Genetic testing showed that I, like my grandfather, aunt, uncle and father before me, would most likely die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS, and/or frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) in my 40s.

Being 36, it’s possible that fear could have overtaken my life, but instead I chose to fight for every chance to change not only my life, but the lives of millions who are suffering or may one day suffer from neurodegenerative disease.

ALS is a rare disease that robs one of their ability to control their muscles, leading them to lose their ability to walk, talk and eventually breathe. Eighty percent of cases are sporadic (of unknown origin) and 20 percent have known genetic causes.

When I learned that I carried the C9ORF72 genetic variant, a causative genetic variant for ALS/FTD) my first instincts were to help others understand their status and where they could turn for help. I saw a vacuum for resources and understanding in the genetic ALS space and I knew that thousands were suffering in darkness.

Through the efforts of many, we created the first ever nonprofit – Genetic ALS & FTD: End the Legacy – focused on fighting for the genetic ALS and FTD communities. After making great strides to fight for our rights and access to care, I was asked if I could help my current CEO, Howard Berman, commercialize Dr. Stanley Appel’s regulatory T Cell (Treg) therapy for ALS.

I joined Coya Therapeutics in 2021 as the first employee, working to build a company that would one day bring life changing therapies to patients. Coya’s therapies are based on Dr. Appel’s discovery that neurodegenerative diseases drive an inflammatory response. As inflammation rises, it damages regulatory T cells, and when Tregs are damaged, inflammation becomes a persistent condition driving degeneration and eventually death.

It was at that point that my life changed from the advocacy world to the therapeutic world. Now over three years later, we are closer than ever to making a paradigm change for how patients with ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases are treated.

At Coya, we believe that combination biologics are the future of treating neurodegenerative diseases. COYA 302 is our lead asset, which has shown promising results in a proof-of-concept study released in March of 2023. We are currently working towards a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial for COYA 302 in ALS set to kick off later this year.

I never wanted to live a life so damned by disease, but when put between a rock and a hard place, the only choice is to fight. I don’t know how my life will end, but I hope that my children will know that I faced a great challenge head on with pride and resilience.

In the end, it is the combination of both the worlds I work in that lead to better outcomes for patients, raising awareness and lifesaving research. This ALS Awareness Month, please join us and our partners like the ALS Association, End the Legacy, and I AM ALS in raising awareness about these conditions, their risks, and treatment options.

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Daniel Barvin is the vice president of operations and patient advocacy at Coya Therapeutics.

For Howard Berman, CEO and co-founder of Coya Therapeutics, commercializing his company is personal. Photo courtesy of Coya

Why this Houston innovator is racing to commercialize its unique treatment for neurodegenerative diseases

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 182

When Howard Berman sought out renowned Houston Methodist researcher and neurologist Dr. Stanley Appel, he was looking for treatment for his father, who was suffering from dementia. He wasn't looking for a job, but Dr. Appel had other ideas and asked Berman to meet with him.

"I was interested in what I could do for my dad," Berman says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how he took the meeting with Dr. Appel, who then presented him with some of his research. "By slide five my jaw had hit the ground.

"He had shown that he could stop the progression in one of his early trials of ALS," Berman says.

Not too long after that meeting, Berman, who founded digital health platform imaware, joined Dr. Appel to lead commercialization of Coya Therapeutics, a biotech startup that raised over $20 million in venture funding before going public a few months ago.

Coya has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again. Diseases like ALS, the company's focus right now, prevent T-regs from doing their job in controlling inflammation, and without these cells hard at work, the human body doesn't stand a chance in fighting autoimmune threats.

Berman, as co-founder and CEO, has been at the helm of the company leading it through both the fundraising and IPO processes. Coya's IPO occured in a tough market — only 12 biotech companies went public last year, he explains. To Berman, that just proves how passionate the team was about getting this product to those who need it.

"It really says something for the fortitude and our team to come together to make it happen," he says on the show. "We're able to deliver and execute in a difficult market climate.

"Once you're a public company, you have different expectations," he continues. "But you also have the opportunity to go out and attract additional investors in ways you can't do as a private company."

For Berman, whose father passed away earlier this year, it's a personal motivation that drives him to lead the company — as well as an opportunity to advance the city of Houston.

"The next number of years as we develop this therapeutic regimen for ALS, we have the potential to transform Houston into something more than it is currently," he says. "Our success will be the city's success."

Berman shares more of the Coya Therapeutics story on the podcast, as well as how he sees Houston's potential as an emerging hub for biotech. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.