Ben Lamm and George Church are pioneering colossal de-extinction technology. Courtesy of Colossal

In a move that may conjure up fanciful thoughts of a particular Steven Spielberg film, a newly launched bioscience and genetics company with ties to Austin and Dallas is pioneering a plan to ensure the long extinct woolly mammoth will once again trudge through the Arctic tundra.

(No need to panic, movie fans, as the furry beast is an herbivore and has no taste for human flesh, lest we forget the lessons learned from Jurassic Park.)

The appropriately named Colossal, which is based across Austin, Dallas, and Boston, has secured $15 million in funding from a variety of sources (including Austin-based Capital Factory and famed self-help guru Tony Robbins) to bring the woolly mammoth back from its roughly 10,000-year extinction.

Colossal, the brainchild of Baylor University grad and tech and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has innovated new approaches to gene editing. Their goal is to pioneer animal de-extinction technology to restore lost ecosystems for a healthier planet. And they're starting by resurrecting the woolly mammoth back to its cold-resistant, curled-tusk, fur-covered glory.

Specifically, Colossal will work to bring to life a cold-resistant elephant-mammoth hybrid with the core biological traits of the woolly mammoth, meaning it will walk, look, and sound like the giant creature, and will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem left abandoned by the woolly mammoth's extinction.

The company uses breakthrough advances in CRISPR genetic engineering to make such scientific dreams a reality. It's all in an effort to "rewild lost habitats and help combat the effects of climate change and the loss of biodiversity." And Colossal notes that its gene-editing process also has the potential to help advance biotechnology products and genomics while also treating diseases. Such technological advancements will also be used to help recover species on the brink of extinction.

"Never before has humanity been able to harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems, heal our Earth, and preserve its future through the repopulation of extinct animals," Lamm says in a release. "In addition to bringing back ancient extinct species like the woolly mammoth, we will be able to leverage our technologies to help preserve critically endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and restore animals where humankind had a hand in their demise."

Indeed, Colossal points to a 2019 United Nations report that warned that more than 1 million animal, plant, and fungi species are now threatened with extinction. That situation could domino, leading to the collapse of ecosystems and negatively impacting human health and livelihood.

By resurrecting certain extinct species, Colossal hopes to rewild habitats and revitalize lost ecosystems, thereby creating a healthier planet. To wit, restoring the woolly mammoth can potentially revitalize the Arctic grasslands, which could combat the dire effects of climate change through a variety of properties, including carbon sequestering, methane suppression, and light reflection.

"Technologies discovered in pursuit of this grand vision — a living, walking proxy of a woolly mammoth — could create very significant opportunities in conservation and beyond, not least of which include inspiring public interest in STEM, prompting timely discussions in bioethics, and raising awareness of the vital importance of biodiversity," Church says.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Life Time Work opening its first Houston location is among this roundup of Houston innovation news. Courtesy of Life Time Work

Hypergiant receives funding from Japan, UH honored for entrepreneur program, coworking space opens, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

In the Houston innovation news cycle, it's hard to keep up. Three higher education institutions are celebrating big wins within innovation and entrepreneurialism, a new coworking space joins the scene, and a health tech competition launches out of the Texas Medical Center.

Here are all the short stories within Houston innovation that you may have missed.

Texas AI company makes international partnership

Photo via hypergiant.com

Hypergiant Industries, a Texas industrial AI company with a presence in Houston, announced that it has received funding from and has entered into a partnership with Japan-basedSumitomo Corporation of Americas. The relationship will allow the company to enable and accelerate Hypergiant's AI-driven innovation initiatives across over 900 Sumitomo subsidiaries and associated companies.

"We're proud to be backed by a global leader like SCOA," says Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Hypergiant, in a release. "SCOA is a company that has advanced so many industries with critical technological breakthroughs decade after decade. This relationship will ensure that both SCOA and Hypergiant remain ahead of the competition in AI for years to come."

The funding amount wasn't disclosed.

Bauer College of Business gets top marks

Photo via bauerticker.uh.edu

The Deshpande Foundation has selected The University of Houston for its 2019 Entrepreneurial University Award, recognizing the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C.T. Bauer College of Business.

"Over the past decade, the Wolff Center's reputation as one of the nation's leading entrepreneurship programs has grown tremendously, and this award from the Deshpande Foundation reinforces that Bauer College is empowering students to innovate through a world-class program that emphasizes experiential learning and personalized attention by dedicated mentors," says Paul A. Pavlou, incoming dean of the Bauer College, in a release.

The award was announced by the Massachusetts-based organization at the Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on June 11.

Life Time Work opens its doors

Courtesy of Life Time Work

Life Time Work's first Houston-area location has opened its doors in City Centre Five at 825 Town & Country Lane. The next location has already been announced to open in downtown Houston next year.

"Life Time Work is a natural extension of the lifestyle brand we have built in our athletic resorts over the past 27 years," says Life Time Work president, James O'Reilly, in a release. "With Houston's continued growth and diversified business and entrepreneurial community, City Centre is the perfect location for us to unveil this concept. We look forward to helping our members in their pursuit of a fulfilling and healthy work life."

The 25,000-square-foot space features 79 desks, 48 offices, lounge spaces, eight phone booths, two phone rooms, five conference rooms, and more features.

JLABS @ TMC opens contest for health care startups

Photo via jlabs.jnjinnovation.com

Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the Texas Medical Center, and AngelMD have teamed up to launch the Breakthrough Medical Technologies QuickFire Challenge, which is looking for game-changing medical device ideas from all over the world for a chance to win prizes.

The winner — or winners — will "receive up to $250,000 in convertible notes funding from TMC, entry to the TMCx accelerator program, one year of residency at JLABS @ TMC in Houston, Texas, and access to the Johnson & Johnson, Innovation - JLABS global ecosystem," according to the website. Also on the line — an additional convertible note investment up to $100,000 from AngelMD's Catalyst Fund.

The competition is looking for innovations within a wide range of health technologies, from oncology to 3D printing.

Houston hospital ranks No. 1 in the state for being one of America's Best Employers

Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to identify the best employers in each state. In Texas, Houston was represented at the top. Houston Methodist ranked as the number one company on the Texas list.

Royal Dutch Shell, which ranks at No. 11, is the next Houston-headquartered company on the list, followed by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (No. 19), Katy Independent School District (No. 22), and Texas Children's Hospital (No. 23.)

HCC recognized for innovation of the year

Photo courtesy of HCC

Houston Community College received the Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College. HCC won for its Zero Textbook Degree initiative, which launched in 2017 and has grown from 28 to 98 sections across five HCC campuses.

"The Z-Degree program is managed by an entire group of hardworking and forward-thinking HCC faculty who are all deserving of the accolades currently bestowed on them," says Chancellor Cesar Maldonado in a news release.

Textbook prices have increased 88 percent since 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, according to the release, textbooks could end up costing some HCC students more than their tuition.

Rice University hosts inaugural program for future entrepreneurs

Photo courtesy of Lilie



Rice's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship got a jump on molding its young minds. Lilie hosted 44 incoming freshmen as a part of its inaugural Lilie Change Maker Summit. For four days, the to-be students had the opportunity to get get a taste of the program and entrepreneurialism through workshops, guest speakers, and more.

The summit was led by Jamie Jones, executive director of Lilie, and Hesam Panahi, lecturer in entrepreneurship at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business and a faculty member at Lilie.

"We truly believe this will be a game changer in the Rice entrepreneurial ecosystem," says Caitlin Bolanos, associate director at Lilie, in an email to InnovationMap. "We were able to connect with these students and build loyalty before they even officially started in the fall, and the students are so pumped to have found each other and to continue working on their ideas while at Rice."

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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.

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 podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.