Here's what life science startups were named most promising at the recent Rice Alliance Texas Life Science Forum.. Getty Images

Houston hosted an annual meeting of the minds that included thoughtful discussions, presentations, panels, and startup pitches within the life science industry.

The Texas Life Science Forum, organized and hosted by the Rice Alliance and BioHouston, took place on November 6 at Rice University's Bioscience Research Collaborative. Throughout the day, over 50 life science startups pitched to the audience. At the end of the forum, 10 startups — most of which are based in Houston — were recognized as being the most promising.

Here's what life science startups you should be keeping an eye out for.

Abilitech Medical

abilitech

Photo via abilitechmedical.com

A St. Paul, Minnisota-based medical device company, Abilitech Medical develops assistive technology to Multiple sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Parkinson's and stroke patients. The first product, Alibitech Assist, will be cleared by the FDA in 2020, with other devices to follow in 2022 and 2023.

AgilVax

agilvax

Photo via agilvax.com

Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, AgilVax is a biopharmaceutical company that works with chemotherapy, checkpoint and KRAS inhibitors to fight various cancers. The company's AX09 is an immunotherapeutic that is headed for human clinical trials in 2020. Another product, M5, is a monoclonal antibody currently in preclinical trials.

Altoida

altoida

Photo via altoida.com

Altoida, based in Houston, has created a medical device that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to collect functional and cognitive data in patients to determine their risk Mild Cognitive Impairment from Alzheimer's Disease. The Altoida Neuro Motor Index has been cleared by the FDA and CE and detects cognitive decline with a 94 percent diagnostic accuracy six to 10 years ahead of the onset of symptoms.

ColubrisMX

Photo via Pexels

Houston-based ColubrisMX makes surgical robots specializing in minimally invasive and endoluminal surgeries. The company's team of engineers and surgeons works adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

Cord Blood Plus

stem cell

Photo via Getty Images

Cord Blood Plus, based in Galveston, is working to commercialize its human umbilical cord blood stem cell technology. The company's primary mission is to use its research and treatment on breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy in order to prevent infections, speed up recovery, and shorten hospital stays.

CorInnova

CorInnova

Photo via CorInnova.com

Another Houston company, CorInnova is a medical device company that has developed a cardiac assist device to treat heart failure without many of the consequences from standard treatment. The device is able to self expand and gently compress the heart in sync with the heartbeat.

Mesogen

mesogen

Photo via Mesogen.com

Mesogen, which is based in The Woodlands, is in the business of using a patient's own cells to grow a human kidney for transplant. The tissue engineering technology allows for the creation of a kidney in less than a year with less risk of transplant rejection and a better quality of life over dialysis treatment.

Saranas

Courtesy of Saranas

Houston-based Saranas has created its Early Bird device to more quickly and more accurately detect bleeding in the human body. The company, which underwent successful clinical trials last year, recently received FDA clearance and launched the device in the United States.

Stream Biomedical

stream biomedical

Photo via streambiomedical.com

Stream Biomedical Inc. is tapping into a therapeutic protein that has proven to be neuroprotective and neuroreparative. The Houston company is aiming to apply the treatment in acute stroke cases and later for traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer's, and dementia cases.

VenoStent

Photo via venostent.com

Houston-based VenoStent has created a device that allows a successful stent implementation on the first try. VenoStent's SelfWrap is made from a shape-memory polymer that uses body heat to mold the stent into the vein-artery junction.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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.