Eight of the 10 most-promising life science startups named at BioHouston and the Rice Alliance's event are based in Houston. Photo courtesy of Rice Alliance

For the second time this year, Houston life science leaders and startup founders gathered to discuss the future of health care in Houston.

The annual Texas Life Science Forum hosted by BioHouston and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship was usually held during the fall before the pandemic pushed it off schedule. In February, the two organizations hosted the previous forum, but as of this month, the annual event is back on track.

The day included panels and networking, plus over 50 companies — about half of which are based in Houston — pitched their solutions across medical device, therapeutics, pharmaceuticals, and more to the crowd.

Houston-based Bairitone Health won the Michael E. DeBakey Memorial Life Science Award, established by BioHouston in honor of the groundbreaking Houston cardiovascular surgeon. The company is creating a wearable technology that takes a more innovative approach to sleep apnea and snoring with its SOMNAR platform that detects tissue-born sounds, identifies obstructions, and more. The award was presented by Ann Tanabe, CEO of BioHouston.

Ann Tanabe, CEO of BioHouston, presented the DeBakey Award to Houston-based Bairitone Health. Photo courtesy of Rice Alliance

For the first time, the event also named a people's choice award winner, as voted on by the audience members. Baritone Health also claimed the prize.

At the conclusion of the event, the Rice Alliance and BioHouston named the 10 most promising life science companies selected by investors and presented by the Greater Houston Partnership. This year's selection included the following companies, in alphabetical order.

Autonomize

Austin-based Autonomizeunlocks data and context to enable human health outcomes

bEHR Health Systems

New Orleans-based bEHR Health Systemsdelivers, medical, lifestyle, and social solutions to health for African Americans.

EMPIRI

EMPIRI, based in Houston, is revolutionizing cancer care with a novel technology that accurately predicts each cancer patient's treatment responses empirically, enabling doctors to make the optimal treatment selection for each cancer patient.

InformAI

Houston-based InformAI develops AI-based medical image diagnostic tools and uses large dataset synthesis to develop clinical outcome predictors for physicians, hospitals, and medical imaging/medical device companies

March Biosciences 

Houston-based March Biosciences is impacting the most challenging lymphoma and leukemia.

MRG Health-SmartCare360

MRG Health-SmartCare360, based in Houston, is a determinate of health and disease specific virtual care management technology and services company that improves patient access to care and clinical outcomes for people suffering from one or more chronic disease.

Prana Thoracic

Prana Thoracic, founded in Houston out of JLABS at TMC, is a medical device startup that's innovating for the future of early intervention in lung cancer.

Steradian Technologies

Another med device startup based in Houston,Steradian Technologiesemploys deep-photonics technology to diagnose respiratory diseases in seconds, all for the price of a latte.

TYBR Health

Houston-based TYBR Health makes a hydrogel that protects tendons from scarring after surgery and improves patient outcomes.

Voythos

Voythos, based in Houston, is making medical records work for today's healthcare.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.