This year, seven of the 10 most-promising life science companies are based in Houston. Photo courtesy of Rice Alliance

Rice University played host this week to the 12th annual Texas Life Science Forum, where life science leaders and startup founders could network, learn and present pitches on their solutions to a wide array of health-related issues.

Hosted by Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and BioHouston on November 7, the event brought together more than 600 attendees for a series of keynote speakers and panels. This year, 45 early-stage therapeutic, diagnostic, medical device and digital health companies—many of which are based in Houston—also pitched their concepts.

Fort Worth-based AyuVis Research walked away from the event with the two top recognitions: The Michael E. DeBakey Memorial Life Science Award and the People's Choice Award. The company, which has developed a small molecule immunotherapy targeting bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) in preterm neonates and other respiratory disorders. The company is raising a $20 million Series A round to support its clinical development and is slated to pitch at IGNITE Health’s Fire Pitch 2023 today, November 9, at the Ion.

Each year the Rice Alliance and BioHouston also name its 10 most promising life science companies, selected by investors—seven out of 10 of which are based in Houston. This year's selection included the following companies, in alphabetical order:

  • 7 Hills Pharma: This Houston-based clinical stage immunotherapy company has developed the concept of allosteric activation of integrins to facilitate cell adhesion and promote immune responses. The concept has uses in preventing infection and cancer, and increasing the effectiveness of oncology drugs and infectious disease vaccines.
  • Bairitone Health: This Houston-based company is building a scalable diagnostic system for sleep apnea anatomy utilizing home-use wearable, passive Sonar technology and AI techniques.
  • Diakonos Oncology: Also based in Houston, Diakonos' Dendritic Cell Vaccine was awarded the FDA’s Fast Track designation. The clinical-stage biotech company's immunotherapies have shown early successes for hard-to-reach, aggressive cancers like Glioblastoma Multiforme.
  • Mongoose Bio: With more than 20 years of research, Mongoose specializes in T cell-based therapies for diverse solid tumors TCR-based therapies in cancer patients. The Houston-based company has developed an immunopeptidome discovery platform for TCR-based therapies in cancer patients.
  • Nandi Life Sciences: Nandi is developing antibodies for Avastin-resistant ovarian cancer, with
  • further application in breast, colorectal and lung cancer. The company is based out of Texas Medical Center Innovation.
  • NKILT Therapeutics: This Houston-based company's seed-stage cell therapy has applications in solid tumors, such as colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, clear cell renal carcinoma, endometrial
  • cancer and more. It is developing a novel and proprietary Chimeric ILT-Receptor.
  • NuVision Biotherapies: Based in the United Kingdom, NuVision has developed and proven a treatment for dry eye disease. It's known for its Omnigen and OmniLenz products and is raising a series A to scale, take the business to profitability and exit.
  • Panakeia Technologies: Also based in the UK, Panakeia has developed an AI-based software that can provide multi-omic biomarkers in minutes. Currently this process takes days or weeks. It's RuO platform can identify 4,500 known multi-omics cancer markers.
  • Taurus Vascular: A recent spin-out of the Texas Medical Center Innovation Biodesign program, Taurus is developing a novel, catheter-based solution for treating endoleaks, which can be related to aortic aneurysms.
  • YAP Therapeutics: The only California-based company to make the cut, this preclinical-stage biotech develops genetic medicines that leverage the company’s tissue renewal and regeneration platform to reverse and cure severe diseases, including heart failure, pulmonary diseases, retinal degeneration and hearing loss.

Last year, Bairitone Health took home the DeBakey and People's Choice awards.

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

Houston startups named most promising in the life science space at annual event

ones to watch

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-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.

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.