San Jacinto College's new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus is expected to be completed early next year. Photo courtesy of San Jacinto College

San Jacinto College and McCord Development Inc. broke ground on the new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus in Northeast Houston.

The 4,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility is slated to allow for more hands-on training within simulated environments and will allow students to earn associate of applied science degrees in biomanufacturing technology, as well as credentials for those already in the workforce. It's scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2025.

“The Center and the overall components of the Biotechnology program will play a vital role in meeting the growing demand for skilled professionals in the biotechnology sector,” Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of San Jacinto College, says in a statement.

“We are committed to equipping our students with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in the dynamic biopharmaceutical industry," she continues. "Our vision is to not only meet the workforce needs of today but will also shape the future of biotechnology education and training in our region.”

San Jacinto College and McCord Development Inc. celebrated the groundbreaking of the new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus in Northeast Houston. Photo courtesy of San Jacinto College

The new Center for Biotechnology curriculum is in partnership with the Ireland-based National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training. It is the only NIBRT-licensed training in the Southwest and Southeast region.

At the groundbreaking, San Jacinto College celebrated the ribbon-cutting for the Biomanufacturing Training Program at the South Campus, the first of the college's comprehensive biotechnology offerings.

The Biomanufacturing Training Program will be a customizable two-week hybrid program that combines theoretical teachings with hands-on experience.

“This program is designed to provide a seamless entry into the field for new professionals, with a focus on practical experience and exposure to industry practices,” Christopher Wild, executive director of San Jacinto College Center for Biotechnology, added in a statement.

The new center is part of Generation Park, a 4,300-acre master-planned development in Northeast Houston. In late 2022, San Jac and McCord, which is developing Generation Park, shared that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with the NIBRT to launch the program and center.

At the time, San Jacinto College was slated to be the institute’s sixth global partner and second U.S. partner.

Last summer, McCord also revealed plans for its 45-acre biomanufacturing campus at Generation Park.
A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

Rice researchers score $45M from NIH for cancer-fighting tech

freshly funded

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

Coya Therapeutics rang the closing bell at Nasdaq last week, celebrating six months since its IPO, new data from trials, and additions to its team. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston company with revolutionary neurodegenerative disease treatment shares milestones since IPO

ring that bell

After announcing its initial public offering earlier this year, a Houston therapeutics company has celebrated the milestone and announced recent growth as well.

Coya Therapeutics (Nasdaq: COYA) rang the closing bell last week. The clinical-stage biotech company, which has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again, announced the closing of its $15.25 million IPO in January.

"We launched our IPO into one of the toughest biotech capital markets in recent memory and are enormously grateful to all our investors for the confidence they then showed in our prospects," says Howard Berman, CEO and chairman of Coya, in a June 12 letter to stockholders. "I believe that to date, we’ve executed strongly against the goals we then established, and I remain excited about our future."

In the letter, Berman shares some of the recent clinical successes from two treatments — COYA 302, a treatment for ALS, and COYA 301, a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. Both treatments have seen strong clinical proof of concept data in the respective open-label studies.

Earlier this year, Coya expanded its C-suite to include Dr. Arun Swaminathan as chief business officer. He has over 20 years of hands-on health care business executive experience. Prior to Coya, Swaminathan served in the same role for Actinium Pharmaceuticals.

"Arun is actively engaged in exploring potential strategic opportunities across our portfolio of assets as we believe successful partnering efforts have the potential to enhance our scientific bona fides, leverage our technology into new areas of unmet medical need, and importantly, possibly secure upfront fees and associated non-dilutive funding," Berman writes in the letter. "We look forward to pursuing additional value creation catalysts that further highlight our entrepreneurialism and ability to execute, while maintaining focus on our core assets."

The latest addition to the Coya team is Guillaume Dorothée, who joins the company's scientific advisory board. A leading expert on the role that the immune system and peripheral-central immune crosstalk play in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's, he's a tenured research director and team head in neuroimmunology at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris.

“I am glad and honored to join such eminent scientists on the prestigious SAB of Coya Therapeutics," he says in a June 5 statement from Coya. "I am fully convinced that innovative Treg-based immunomodulatory approaches, as developed by Coya, are highly promising therapeutic strategies for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and other neuroinflammatory conditions. I will be happy to help Coya Therapeutics in this exciting endeavor.”

Recently, Berman joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Coya's mission and plan post IPO.


The opening of the pilot plant marks the debut of Cemvita’s eCO2 business as a wholly owned subsidiary. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Fast-growing startup with carbon-free solution sets up pilot plant in Houston

big moves

Cleantech startup Cemvita has set up a pilot plant in its hometown of Houston to develop technology for converting carbon emissions as feedstock to make products like fertilizer, plastics, methane, and fuel.

The opening of the pilot plant marks the debut of Cemvita’s eCO2 business as a wholly owned subsidiary. The term eCO2 refers to equivalent carbon dioxide, or a way to measure a combination of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

With a capacity of more than 14,000 gallons, the plant is producing eCO2 oil, an alternative to soybean oil. The company already is shipping samples of eCO2 products to customers, including renewable-fuel companies and plastics manufacturers.

Cemvita says the biofuel industry is facing feedstock shortages and price fluctuations. Biofuel feedstocks produce starches or sugars that can be converted to produce ethanol, while others produce oil that can be used in biodiesel production, according to the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program.

“Traditional biofuels, including renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, have relied on oils derived from crops, such as soybean and corn, as well as recycled vegetable oils,” Cemvita says. “As demand grows for petroleum-free alternatives, feedstock is in short supply and must compete with food markets. Crops of soybeans, sugar, and corn use huge swaths of land, and the raw materials require extensive refining — two factors that impede the processes from being sustainable.”

By contrast, eCO2 plants like Cemvita’s can supply feedstock production with minimal land and electricity requirements, and without relying on hydrogen or sunlight, the company says. Furthermore, the output of eCO2 plants is designed to carbon-negative, not just carbon-neutral.

Cemvita’s eCO2 biomanufacturing platform uses engineered microbes that absorb and convert carbon dioxide into feedstocks and finished products.

“The energy transition requires completely new, cost-effective approaches for heavy industry,” Charlie Nelson, chief operating officer of Cemvita, says in a news release. “We built this next-generation pilot plant in response to strong demand from … partners who are actively seeking sustainable solutions to the … feedstock shortage.”

Brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi founded Cemvita in 2017.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

San Diego-based rBIO moved to Houston to take advantage of the growing ecosystem of biomanufacturing and synthetic biology. Photo via Getty Images

California-founded biotech startup relocates to join Houston's emerging bioeconomy

new to hou

Cameron Owen had an idea for a synthetic biology application, and he pitched it to a handful of postdoctoral programs. When he received the feedback that he didn't have enough research experience, he decided to launch a startup based in San Diego around his idea. He figured that he'd either get the experience he needed to re-apply, or he'd create a viable company.

After three years of research and development, Owen's path seems to have taken him down the latter of those two options, and he moved his viable company, rBIO, to Houston — a twist he didn't see coming.

“Houston was not on my radar until about a year and a half ago,” Owen says, explaining that he thought of Houston as a leading health care hub, but the coasts still had an edge when it came to what he was doing. “San Diego and the Boston area are the two big biotech and life science hubs.”

But when he visited the Bayou City in December of 2021, he says he saw first hand that something new was happening.

“Companies from California like us and the coastal areas were converging here in Houston and creating this new type of bioeconomy,” he tells InnovationMap.

Owen moved to Houston last year, but rBIO still has an academic partner in Washington University in St. Louis and a clinical research organization it's working with too, so he admits rBIO's local footprint is relatively small — but not for long.

"When we look to want to get into manufacturing, we definitely want to build something here in Houston," he says. "We’re just not to that point as a company."

In terms of the stage rBIO is in now, Owen says the company is coming out of R&D and into clinical studies. He says rBIO has plans to fundraise and is meeting with potential partners that will help his company scale and build out a facility.

With the help of its CRO partner, rBIO has two ongoing clinical projects — with a third coming next month. Owen says right now rBIO is targeting the pharmaceutical industry’s biologics sector — these are drugs our bodies make naturally, like insulin. About 12 percent of the population in the United States has diabetes, which translates to almost 40 million people. The demand for insulin is high, and rBIO has a way to create it — and at 30 percent less cost.

This is just the tip of the iceberg — the world of synthetic biology application is endless.

“Now that we can design and manipulate biology in ways we’ve never been able to before,” Owen says, "we’re really only limited by our own imagination.”

Synthetic biology is a field of science that involves programing biology to create and redesign natural elements. While it sounds like science fiction, Owen compares it to any other type of technology.

“Biology really is a type of software,” he says. “Phones and computers at their core run on 1s and 0s. In biology, it’s kind of the same thing, but instead of two letters, it’s four — A, C, T, and G.”

“The cool thing about biology is the software builds the hardware,” he continues. “You put that code in there and the biology builds in and of itself.”

Owen says the industry of synthetic biology has been rising in popularity for years, but the technology has only recently caught up.

“We’re exploring a brave new world — there’s no doubt about that,” Owen says.

The San Jacinto College Biotechnology Center is aimed at training workers in life science and at helping firm up Houston’s status in life science manufacturing. Rending courtesy of San Jacinto College

New biotech training center to rise in Northeast Houston

coming soon

A biotech training center is in the works at San Jacinto College in Houston, which the school says is positioned to become a global leader in biomanufacturing.

The San Jacinto College Biotechnology Center, to be located at the 4,300-acre Generation Park in Northeast Houston, is aimed at training workers in life science and at helping firm up Houston’s status in life science manufacturing.

A recent study commissioned by the Greater Houston Partnership identified development of a well-trained workforce as a key component to the region’s success in attracting and retaining life science companies.

San Jac and McCord Development, the Houston-based developer of Generation Park, have signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) in Ireland that is supposed to lead to the college becoming the exclusive provider of institute-licensed training in the Southwest and Southeast regions of the U.S.

The college says the center “will offer students hands-on experience in a pilot-scale bioprocessing center that includes upstream, downstream, and fill-finish facilities, as well as specific curriculum in cell and gene therapy and other innovative and developing industry sectors.”

San Jacinto College will be the institute’s sixth global partner and second U.S. partner.

“Building on San Jacinto College’s established track record of working with industry to develop need-specific training and accreditation centers, the partnership with NIBRT represents an opportunity to train the workforce that Houston's biopharma industry needs to sustain its rapid growth,” Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of the college, says in a news release. “We also expect to contribute to the global market by training people eager to enter this growing industry from around the United States and beyond.”

A study will be undertaken to determine details about the center, including its curriculum and size.

“San Jacinto College’s Biotechnology Center at Generation Park is the catalyst our region needs to fill the gap in our existing life science ecosystem and accelerate biomanufacturing in Houston,” says Ryan McCord, president of McCord Development.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston offshore robotics company secures $12M, names new CEO

big moves

In the wake of a leadership reshuffling and amid lingering financial troubles, publicly traded Nauticus Robotics, a Webster-based developer of subsea robots and software, has netted more than $12 million in a second tranche of funding.

The more than $12 million in new funding includes a $9.5 million loan package.

Nauticus says the funding will accelerate certification of the company’s flagship Aquanaut robot, which is being prepared for its inaugural mission — inspecting a deep-water production facility in the Gulf of Mexico that’s owned by a major oil and gas company.

The new funding comes several weeks after the company announced a change in leadership, including a new interim CEO, interim chief financial officer, and lead general counsel.

Former Halliburton Energy Services executive John Gibson, the interim CEO, became president of Nauticus last October and subsequently joined the board. Gibson replaced Nauticus founder Nicolaus Radford in the CEO role. Radford’s LinkedIn profile indicates he left Nauticus in January 2024, the same month that Gibson stepped into the interim post.

Radford founded what was known as Houston Mechatronics in 2014.

Victoria Hay, the new interim CFO at Nauticus, and Nicholas Bigney, the new lead general counsel, came aboard in the fourth quarter of 2023.

“We currently have the intellectual property, prototypes, and the talent to deliver robust products and services,” Gibson says in a news release. “Team Nauticus is now laser-focused on converting our intellectual property, including both patents and trade secrets, into differentiated solutions that bring significant value to both commercial and government customers.”

A couple of weeks after the leadership shift, the NASDAQ stock market notified Nauticus that the average closing price of the company’s common stock had fallen below the $1-per-share threshold for 30 consecutive trading days. That threshold must be met to maintain a NASDAQ listing.

Nauticus was given 180 days to lift its average stock price above $1. If that threshold isn’t reached during that 180-day period, the company risks being delisted by NASDAQ. The stock closed February 6 at 32 cents per share.

The stock woes and leadership overhaul came on the heels of a dismal third-quarter 2023 financial report from Nauticus. The company’s fourth-quarter 2023 financial report hasn’t been filed yet.

For the first nine months of 2023, Nauticus reported an operating loss of nearly $20.9 million, up from almost $11.3 million during the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, revenue sank from $8.2 million during the first nine months of 2022 to $5.5 million in the same period a year later.

Nauticus went public in September 2022 through a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) merger with New York City-based CleanTech Acquisition Corp., a “blank check” company that went public in July 2021 through a $150 million IPO. The SPAC deal was valued at $560 million when it was announced in December 2021.

Nauticus recently hired investment bank Piper Sandler & Co. to help evaluate “strategic options to maximize shareholder value.”

One of the strategic alternatives involves closing Nauticus’ previously announced merger with Houston-based 3D at Depth, which specializes in subsea laser technology. When it was unveiled last October, the all-stock deal was valued at $34 million.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — 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.


Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com

Omair Tariq of Cart.com joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his confidence in Houston as the right place to scale his unicorn. Photo via Cart.com

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. Continue reading.

Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University

In addition to supporting Amanda Marciel's research, the funds will also go toward creating opportunities in soft matter research for undergraduates and underrepresented scientists at Rice University. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

An assistant professor at Rice University has won one of the highly competitive National Science Foundation's CAREER Awards.

The award grants $670,406 over five years to Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched, according to a statement from Rice. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.

“My goal is to create a new paradigm for designing elastomers,” Marciel said in a statement. “The research has four aims: to determine the role of comb polymer topology in forming elastomers, understanding the effects of that topology on elastomer mechanics, characterizing its effects on elastomer structure and increasing the intellectual diversity in soft matter research.” Continue reading.

Youngro Lee, founder of Brassica

Youngro Lee is celebrating the acquisition of his company, Brassica. Photo courtesy

A Houston fintech innovator is celebrating his latest startup's exit.

Brassica Technologies Inc., a fintech infrastructure company that's provides a platform for alternative assets, has been acquired by BitGo, a Palo Alto, California-based tech company with digital asset services. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Joining forces with BitGo is a significant step towards Brassica's ultimate vision of building the financial infrastructure of the future," Youngro Lee, founder and CEO of Brassica, says in a news release. "Our strength lies in our 'one stop shop' approach of providing API-enabled infrastructure for the alternative assets industry. Continue reading.

Houston fintech startup acquired by California unicorn

M&A moves

A Houston fintech innovator is celebrating his latest startup's exit.

Brassica Technologies Inc., a fintech infrastructure company that's provides a platform for alternative assets, has been acquired by BitGo, a Palo Alto, California-based tech company with digital asset services. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Joining forces with BitGo is a significant step towards Brassica's ultimate vision of building the financial infrastructure of the future," Youngro Lee, founder and CEO of Brassica, says in a news release. "Our strength lies in our 'one stop shop' approach of providing API-enabled infrastructure for the alternative assets industry.

"This sector is rapidly growing and bringing in new investors around the world," Lee continues. "Our technology-focused development, combined with our deep domain expertise in securities and banking laws, uniquely position us in the market, especially for sophisticated clients dealing with the complexities of private securities and digital assets."

Lee founded Brassica in 2020 after his first fintech company, NextSeed, was acquired by Republic. Brassica raised its $8 million seed round led by Houston-based Mercury last year.

The acquisition is a strategic move by BitGo, which was valued at $1.75 billion last year, according to the company after its $100 million raise. Adding Brassica's suite of technology expands on BitGo's ability to grow its customer base.

"We currently have a dichotomy in financial services — one side deals with traditional securities and the other deals with up-and-coming blockchain-based assets and cryptocurrencies," Mike Belshe, CEO of BitGo, says in the release. "With this acquisition, BitGo becomes the first major financial services firm to be able to provide comprehensive infrastructure support for both traditional private securities and blockchain-based assets, while significantly expanding our global presence."

Last year, Lee joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Brassica and his overarching mission of democratizing fintech and investment tools. He explains there hasn't been a seamless solution created for the backend of alternative asset transactions, things like custody of those assets or transferring and keeping track of them.

"The reason why I thought this was what I wanted to focus on next was exactly because it was an issue I struggled with as a founder of NextSeed," Lee says on the show. "The backend was always an issue. There's not one single vendor that we felt really understood our business, was doing it efficiently, or enabled us to deliver those services to our end clients."