This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Enrique Gomez of Texas Medical Center Innovation, Katie Eick of Rockin' Pets Rollin' Vets, and Jim Gable of Chevron. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health care innovation to energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Enrique Gomez, entrepreneur in residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation

Enrique Gomez joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Houston as an oncology innovation hub. Photo via TMC.edu

When it comes to leading oncology innovation, Houston has a seat at the table, Enrique Gomez, entrepreneur in residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation's Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Houston is a place where everyone looks at when it comes to novel research and approaches to treating cancer," Gomez says. "The landscape here is going to be accelerated because we see much more collaboration between the founding institutions — and that's a very important element of growth. Houston has no comparison to any other place in terms of what's going on here and the level and quality of research."Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Katie Eick, founder of Rollin' Vets

Katie Eick always wanted to be able to offer mobile services. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

Houston-based Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets, a full-service mobile veterinary clinic based in Houston, has closed a $5 million equity raise with plans to expand across the Lone Star State. Founded by Dr. Katie Eick, who is the company's CEO, Rollin’ Vets Group flips the switch on pet health care by bringing vets to its patients' homes.

This fresh funding helps Eick take that first step toward expansion. According to a news release, Rockin’ Pets, Rollin’ Vets expects to have a presence in Dallas and Austin by March of next year.

“This equity raise allows us to not only hire additional talent, but also increase our mobile clinic fleet, while expanding into other cities at an expedited rate. There is a vast opportunity to serve animals and people that need non-traditional veterinary care in other Texas markets. We are ready to tap into these markets and bring convenient, state-of-the-art care straight to pet owners’ doorsteps,” says Eick in the release. Click here to read more.

Jim Gable, incoming vice president of innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures

Barbara Burger has led Chevron's innovation efforts for almost a decade and is passing the responsibilities to Jim Gable. Photo courtesy

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, is retiring, and passing the role to Jim Gable.

Gable brings his 23 years of experience to the role. Based in Chevron's office on the West Coast, he will be relocating to Houston, per the release. He currently oversees the development and deployment of downstream-related technology for Chevron.

“CTV has a 22-year history of investing in startups across a wide cross section of energy innovation and a track record of collaboration to bring innovation to scale,” Bonner continues. “Jim’s experience at Chevron is deep and diverse. Combined with his technology commercialization experience with CTV early in his career, as well as in his current role, Jim is poised to lead CTV to even greater success.” Click here to read more.

Enrique Gomez joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Houston as an oncology innovation hub. Photo via TMC.edu

How Houston is emerging as a leader for oncology innovation, according to this expert

Houston innovators podcast episode 114

Houston is currently establishing itself as a hub for health care innovation — and Enrique Gomez should know. He's worked in the field of biopharmaceuticals across the continent.

As entrepreneur in residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation's Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, he works with early stage startups and researchers. However, for decades he's worked in a much later stage of drug development, holding leadership positions at Takada in Latin America and Shire in Boston.

"Texas is very well recognized for cancer therapeutics," Gomez says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's a lot of research going on. These researchers are looking at every angle — every possible strategy to tackle cancer."

At ACT, Gomez connects the startups or instigators with the resources they need to get their life-saving solutions to market. With cancer, there's not one thing that's going to work. There have to be options for treating cancer.

"Cancer is very heterogeneous. Not one strategy will be the single silver bullet to overcome the disease," Gomez says. "We are talking about personalized medicine. Every person is different and every cancer in every patient is different. It will require a number of approaches to overcome the health situation."

Thankfully, through TMC's ACT and the numerous research institutions working on the future of oncology, Houston's a great spot to move that needle.

"Houston is a place where everyone looks at when it comes to novel research and approaches to treating cancer," Gomez says. "The landscape here is going to be accelerated because we see much more collaboration between the founding institutions — and that's a very important element of growth. Houston has no comparison to any other place in terms of what's going on here and the level and quality of research."

He shares more on how COVID-19 has affected drug development and research — as well as what's next for his own career — on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

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.