Houston Methodist's cardiovascular sciences, orthopedics and RNA therapeutics research programs will be the first to occupy the new space. Photo via houstonmethodist.org

Texas medical giant Houston Methodist is the latest to join the Dynamic One building within TMC Helix Park.

The hospital announced that it has signed a 75,800-square-foot lease in the building and will take over two floors of biomedical research laboratories. Houston Methodist's cardiovascular sciences, orthopedics and RNA therapeutics research programs will be the first to occupy the space.

“We are always focused on translating innovative medical discoveries into viable therapies for patients. These highly entrepreneurial programs, which translate these discoveries to the bedside, are a natural fit within the emerging biotechnology ecosystem that the TMC is cultivating,” Edward Jones, president and CEO of Houston Methodist Research Institute, said in the announcement.

Houston Methodist joins anchor tenant Baylor College of Medicine in the state-of-the-art building, which opened in Nov. 2023.

The 12-story Dynamic One building features lab space, offices, restaurants, and stores. It represents the first of four buildings planned for the 37-acre TMC Helix Park and was one of the largest life sciences projects in the U.S. set to come online last year.

Developers are slated to open three more move-in-ready Beacon Ready Labs in the building this summer, ranging from 9,000 to 15,000 square feet.

“We are excited to welcome Houston Methodist to this space; their commitment to bench to bedside innovation and track record of transformative new discoveries aligns with our vision for the campus,” William McKeon, president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center, said in a statement. “Beacon Capital has been an outstanding partner in the development of TMC Helix Park, lending their insights to our efforts to design a campus that would seamlessly blend institutions and industry.”

TMC Helix Park officially opened last October with the launch of the TMC3 Collaborative Building. The 250,000-square-foot building anchors the campus and houses research initiatives from the four founding partners: Texas Medical Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

UTHealth Houston also broke ground on its 350,000-square-foot tower on the campus last summer. It's slated to open in time for the 2026 Fall semester. And TMC unveiled plans for the fourth and final component of Helix Park, the TMC BioPort, in 2022.

TMCi named its 2024 Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics cohort.

TMC names 2024 cohort of cancer treatment innovators

ready to grow

For the fourth year, Texas Medical Center Innovation has named its annual cohort of Texas health tech innovators working on promising cancer therapeutics.

TMCi named its 2024 Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics cohort last week, and the 23 Texas researchers and companies selected will undergo a nine-month program that will provide them with mentorship and programming, as well as open doors to potential investors and strategic partners.

“The ACT program provides a bridge to commercialization in Texas by surrounding innovators with strategic mentorship, milestone development, and a network of resources to move their projects forward,” Emily Reiser, associate director of TMC Innovation, says in a news release. "We are excited to welcome this year's cohort and to continue enabling participants to advance their solutions to treat cancer."

The program has accelerated 76 researchers and companies to date, many of which — like March Biosciences and Mongoose Bio — have gone on to secure $130 million in funding from venture capitalists and grant funding.

“Our program has cultivated a dynamic ecosystem where partners, researchers, and inventors, who have been part of the journey since its inception and received various forms of funding, continue to propel their life-saving products and technologies forward," Ahmed AlRawi, program manager of ACT, says in the release. "Our 2024 cohort represents our most diverse cohort to date, including eight companies led by women entrepreneurs. Additionally, we are particularly proud that the cohort includes a blend of new and recurring organizations that have leveraged this opportunity in the past to extend their work and continue the momentum to build off the successes of our previous years.”

The 2024 participants are:

  • Alexandre Reuben of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Betty Kim & Jiang Wen of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Bin He of Houston Methodist
  • Daniel Kiss & John Cooke of PeakRNA at Houston Methodist
  • Hongjun Liang of Texas Tech-Lubbock
  • Jacob Goell & Isaac Hilton of Mercator Biosciences at Rice University
  • Jay Hartenbach & Matthew Halpert of Diakonos Oncology Corp.
  • Kathryn O’Donnell of UT-Southwestern
  • Maralice Conacci Sorrell of UT-Southwestern
  • Neeraj Saini of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Neil Thapar of Barricade Therapeutics Corp.
  • Nina Keshavarzi of Celine Biotechnologies
  • Raphael G. Ognar & Henri Bayle of NKILT Therapeutics Inc.
  • Richard Austin & Michael Abrahamson of Reglagene Inc.
  • Tim Peterson & Joppe Nieuwenhuis of Bioio Inc.
  • Todd Aguilera & Eslam Elghonaimy of UT-Southwestern
  • Venkata Lokesh Battula of Siddhi Therapeutics Inc. at UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Weei-Chin Lin & Fang-Tsyr Lin of Baylor College of Medicine
  • Yong Li & Dongxiao Feng of Sotla Therapeutics at Baylor College of Medicine
  • Anil Sood & Zhiqiang An of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Narendra Kumar & Jayshree Mishra of Texas A&M-College Station
  • Tao Wang of NightStar Biotechnologies Inc. at UT-Southwestern
  • Jian Hu of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sunny Zhang of TrueLeap, Jim Dillon of BiVACOR, and Livia Schiavinato Eberlin of Baylor College of Medicine. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Each week, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — 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.

Sunny Zhang, founder of TrueLeap

Sunny Zhang joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

It's safe to say Sunny Zhang has a handle on the machine and cycle that innovation as a tenured business professor, startup founder, and venture capital investor. An academic at her core, she looks at innovation from the outside in — and inside out — in her various roles.

But there is a throughline for Zhang, and it's observing the innovation cycle. In her 20 years, she's worked closely with startups on the topic.

"My research has always focused on the innovation diffusion process — essentially the psychological and behavioral science of innovation diffusion when a product is introduced in a marketplace. How is that adoption going in a network as a result in many factors — internally and externally in a digital world and in the international and global market," Zhang says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"I've been seeing how innovation works, how products are getting adopted, and the behavioral process in it. We talk about 'go-to market,' but I want to promote 'come-from market.' Identify the problem itself," Zhang says, explaining that as both an academic and life-long learner, this is important to her.

Jim Dillon, CEO of BiVACOR

Jim Dillon has been named CEO of BiVACOR. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Houston-based medical device company BiVACOR has brought aboard a new CEO.

Jim Dillon, a longtime executive in the medical device sector, has been hired to lead BiVACOR and join its board of directors. Dillon succeeds former heart surgeon Dr. Thomas Vassiliades, whose appointment as CEO was announced in January 2022.

“Jim’s leadership style, combined with his experience in building high-performance teams as well as expertise in the heart failure field, makes him the ideal person to lead BiVACOR,” Raymond Cohen, chairman of BiVACOR, says in a news release. Continue reading.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Photo via bcm.edu

An associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine has won a prestigious award for young chemical scientists in the state and secured $3 million in funding to further develop her technology.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research in December. The award was established by the Houston-based Welch Foundation and recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. Eberlin will be granted $100,000 for this honor.

Eberlin runs the Eberlin Lab for Medical Mass Spectrometry at BCM and is known for her groundbreaking work in the application of mass spectrometry technologies, which are changing how physicians treat cancer and analyze tissues.

In the same week, Baylor College of Medicine announced that the Eberlin Lab received $3 million in funding from The Marcus Foundation to further develop the MasSpec Pen technology in breast cancer surgeries. Eberlin developed the tool in 2016 while she was serving as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The MasSpec Pen is a device for detecting cancer directly on tissues. Continue reading.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor scientist wins award for young chemists, scores $3M for groundbreaking cancer tech

on the rise

An associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine has won a prestigious award for young chemical scientists in the state and secured $3 million in funding to further develop her technology.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research in December. The award was established by the Houston-based Welch Foundation and recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. Eberlin will be granted $100,000 for this honor.

Eberlin runs the Eberlin Lab for Medical Mass Spectrometry at BCM and is known for her groundbreaking work in the application of mass spectrometry technologies, which are changing how physicians treat cancer and analyze tissues.

“I firmly believe that Dr. Eberlin’s commitment to transformational chemical research is unparalleled, and her impressive growth over her early independent career points to a bright future of scientific discoveries that will continue to revolutionize the field of chemical and biomedical research and improve treatment for patients,” Dr. Todd Rosengart, chair of Surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine and faculty adviser to Dr. Eberlin, says in a statement. “She is highly deserving of this honor.”

In the same week, Baylor College of Medicine announced that the Eberlin Lab received $3 million in funding from The Marcus Foundation to further develop the MasSpec Pen technology in breast cancer surgeries. Eberlin developed the tool in 2016 while she was serving as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The MasSpec Pen is a device for detecting cancer directly on tissues.

“When I met Dr. Eberlin and understood how the MasSpec Pen could help surgeons and ultimately impact patient lives, it was an easy yes to support the expansion of this innovative tool. It’s absolutely brilliant technology,” says Bernie Marcus, chairman of The Marcus Foundation and co-founder of The Home Depot, in a BCM news release.

The technology is being used in clinical studies at the Texas Medical Center to detect cancer tissue during a surgical operation, which allows doctors to more accurately remove tumor tissue. The fresh funding will help enroll 200 patients at two Houston hospitals: Ben Taub Hospital and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.

The Eberlin Lab at BCM is also researching ways to provide physicians with better, real-time decision-making tools to help with cancer diagnosis, disease progression, prognosis and treatment strategies, according to BCM.

“The strides Dr. Eberlin has made in her career so far are beyond commendable and make her an ideal choice for the Hackerman Award,” Douglas L. Foshee, director and chair of The Welch Foundation, said in a statement. “Her creative and hardworking nature is fundamentally changing the treatment experience for patients with cancer, not to mention the field of chemistry as a whole.”

Eberlin is originally from Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil, where she earned her undergraduate degree from State University of Campinas. She obtained her graduate degree from Purdue University and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Stanford University. In addition to the award from the Welch foundation, she has also received several other prestigious honors, including a Sloan Research Fellowship, Moore Inventor Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018.

The Welch Foundation has contributed close to $1.1 billion to scientists in Texas since it was founded in 1954. Earlier this year it funded the Welch Center for Advanced Bioactive Materials Crystallization at the University of Houston through its inaugural $5 million Catalyst for Discovery Program Grant.

The nonprofit organization also announced nearly $28 million in grants to Texas institutions over the summer.

The Center for Innovation and Translation of POC Technologies for Equitable Cancer Care, or CITEC, will be managed through Rice360 Institute for Global Health Technologies. Photo via Getty Images

Rice-led initiative looks to make cancer detection affordable, equitable

future of health care

A new initiative from two Houston organizations is hoping to develop affordable health care innovation for early cancer detection.

The Center for Innovation and Translation of POC Technologies for Equitable Cancer Care, or CITEC, will be managed through Rice360 Institute for Global Health Technologies, which is part of an ongoing international effort to prepare the future global health workforce.

Rice will be joined by Baylor College of Medicine, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Sao Paulo, Barretos Cancer Hospital in Brazil, Mozambique Ministry of Health, and Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique.

“While early detection and treatment of cancer can improve survival, available tests for early cancer detection are too complex or too expensive for hospitals and clinics in medically underserved areas,” CITEC co-principal investigator Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a Rice bioengineering professor and director of Rice360, says in a news release.

The project is part of a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to launch a top-tier research center in the Texas Medical Center to develop point-of-care technologies that improve early cancer detection in low-resource in America and internationally that are effective and affordable. Rice’s leading collaboration group to help secure the grant includes engineers, oncologists and international global health partners from three continents. in low-resource settings in the United States and other countries.

CITEC will aim to target development of POC tests for oral, cervical and gastrointestinal cancers through the first-year grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) of $1.3 million—up to $6.5 million over five years. CITEC is funded by a NIBIB grant.

Last month, NIBIB announced that CITEC will be one of six research centers that it will support, along with an additional center, through its Point of Care Technology Research Network (POCTRN).

Dr. Sharmila Anandasabapathy, vice president of global health at Baylor College of Medicine, and Tomasz Tkaczyk, bioengineering professor at Rice, are the other two cco-principals on the initiative.

“CITEC will identify needed technologies, accelerate their development, evaluate their performance and impact in diverse settings and train local users and technology developers to create and disseminate more equitable POC technologies,” Anandasabapathy says in the release.

A Houston health care company received the green light from the FDA to advance a treatment that's targeting a deadly cancer. Photo via Getty Images

Houston immunotherapy company achieves FDA designation for cancer-fighting vaccine

got the green light

The FDA has granted a Houston-based company a Fast Track designation.

Diakonos Oncology Corp. is a clinical-stage immuno-oncology company that has developed a unique dendritic cell vaccine, DOC1021. The vaccine targets glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and most lethal malignant brain tumor in adults. The aggressive tumors come with a life expectancy of about 15 months following diagnosis. About 7 percent of those diagnosed survive five years, while the 10-year outlook only sees a one-percent survival rate.

“The FDA’s decision acknowledges the potential of this new treatment approach for a very challenging disease,” Diakonos CEO Mike Wicks says in a press release. “Our protocol represents a first for cancer immunotherapy and could be viable for many types of cancers beyond GBM.”

FDA Fast Track designations are intended to expedite the haste with which drugs with early clinical promise are reviewed, likely taking them to market faster.

DOC1021 uses the body’s natural anti-viral immune response to fight GBM. The vaccine mimics viral infection with the patient’s cancer markers. Essentially, DOC1021 uses the body’s own natural ability to detect and eliminate infected cells.

The technology uses dendritic cells, white blood cells that are able to perceive threats, to its advantage. The unique cancer markers are loaded both internally and externally into the immune cells, just as they would simultaneously occur in a viral infection. The individualized treatment is administered through three precise injections that target deep cervical lymph node chains. By dosing this way, the immune responses are directed straight to the central nervous system.

The results have spoken for themselves: All of the patients who have tried the treatment have exceeded survival expectations. And just as importantly, DOC1021 appears to be extremely safe. No serious adverse effects have been reported.

“Because Phase I clinical trials are generally not statistically powered to demonstrate efficacy, detection of a statistically significant efficacy signal is very promising,” says William Decker, associate professor of immunology at Baylor College of Medicine and inventor of the DOC1021 technology.

The Phase 1 open-label trial of DOC1021 (NCT04552886) is currently taking place at both the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, NJ. The trial is expected to complete this year.

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Houston innovator bets on Bayou City to scale fast-growing unicorn tech co.

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 223

Last November, Houston-founded logistics tech company Cart.com announced that it would be returning its headquarters to Houston after spending the last two years growing in Austin. But Co-Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says that while the corporate address may have changed, he actually never left.

"I've been in Houston now forever — and I don't think I'm planning on leaving anytime soon. I love Houston — this city has given me everything I have," Tariq says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I even love the traffic and everything people hate about Houston."

Tariq, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in Dubai before relocating as a teen to Houston, shared his entrepreneurial journey on the show, which included starting a jewelry business and being an early employee at Blinds.com before it was acquired in 2014 by Home Depot.

"For me to build something here was always a priority," Tariq says. He founded Cart.com in 2020.

He explains that the initial HQ relocation to Austin in 2021 was more of a co-location between the two Texas cities that was motivated by an increase in Austin activity for investors and potential customers for Cart.com.

"Austin was doing a really good job of branding itself as being the city in Texas to come to when you think about innovation or technology," Tariq says. "What we learned was that as we were building our own brand of being a technology company and being a company that wanted to gain global and at least national credibility, we thought that if we're closer to the action happening in Austin, we would get there faster."

Since the relocation, Cart.com raised a $60 million series C and grown its customer base to over 6,000 users. After making several acquisitions, the company also operates 14 fulfillment centers nationwide.

"I think Austin served its purpose. It certainly allowed us to be in the limelight in all the right ways, and I'm grateful for it," Tariq says. "But once we got to a point, once we closed our series C round and became a unicorn ... I think we're now at a scale where the infrastructure that Houston provides is probably something that will be more attractive and useful for us in the long term."

And Tariq adds on the show that he feels confident that he knows Houston well, and knows it is the right place to continue Cart.com's growth, which he says hopes includes 10 times the brands supported, a global footprint, and potentially an IPO.

Houston medical device company secures $57.7M to fund journey to FDA approval, commercialization

fresh funding

Houston-born and bred medical device company, Procyrion, has completed its series E with a raise of $57.7 million, including the conversion of $10 million of interim financing.

Procyrion is the company behind Aortix, a pump designed to be placed in the descending thoracic aorta of heart failure patients, which has been shown to improve cardiac performance in seriously ill subjects. The money raised will allow the company to proceed with a the DRAIN-HF Study, a pivotal trial that will be used for eventual FDA approval and commercialization.

The Aortix is the brainchild of Houston cardiologist Reynolds Delgado. According to Procyrion’s CSO, Jace Heuring, Delgado, gained some of his experience with devices for the heart working with legendary Texas Heart Institute surgeon O.H. “Bud” Frazier. He filed his first patents related to the Aortix in 2005.

Heuring says that the first prototypes were built in 2011, followed by the final design in 2018. That same year, CEO Eric Fain, a California-based MD and with more than 30 years in the medical device industry, joined the company, primed to bring Aortix to the public. He visits the company’s Houston headquarters, across the street from Central Market, on a regular basis.

The device’s pilot study of 18 patients was completed in 2022. Those encouraging results paved the way for the current study, which will include an enrollment of 134 patients. The randomized study will seek to treat patients with acute decompensated heart failure. Half will be treated with standard-of-care therapy, the other half will be catheterized with an Aortix pump. A separate arm of the study will seek to treat end-stage heart failure patients who would otherwise be deemed too sick for either a transplant or an LVAD permanent pump. Fort-five healthcare centers in the United States will participate, including Texas Heart Institute.

“One of the key characteristics is [the patients] are retaining a lot of fluid,” explains Heuring in a video interview. “And when I say a lot, I mean it could be 25 or 30 or 40 pounds of fluid or more. When we put our pump in, one of the main goals is to reduce that fluid load.”

On average, about 11 liters of fluid came off of each patient. Many of those end-stage patients had previously been considered for both a heart and kidney transplant, but after using the Aortix, their kidneys responded so well that they were able to get only the heart transplant.

“These patients really are in dire straits and come into the hospital and today the only proven therapy to help these patients is to administer high doses of intravenous diuretic and some other cardiac drugs and in about 25 percent of patients those therapies are ineffective,” says Fain.

If Aortix gains approval, these sickest of the sick, usually consigned to hospice care, will have hope.

Thanks to the Series E, led by Houston’s Fannin Partners, returning investors, including Bluebird Ventures, the Aortix is inching closer to commercialization. Besides funding the DRAIN-HR study, Procyrion will also use the funds for internal programs to improve product manufacturability. One more step towards meaning advanced heart failure may not always be a death sentence.

Last month, Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and alluded to Procyrion's raise. The company was born out of Fannin and still resides in the same building as Fannin.

Aortix is a pump designed to be placed in the descending thoracic aorta of heart failure patients. Photo via Procyrion