FibroBiologics will IPO this week. Photo via Getty Images

Want a piece of one of Houston’s most promising biotech companies? On January 31, FibroBiologics will begin the trading of its common stock on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

While most labs in the realm of regenerative medicine are focused on stem cells, FibroBiologics has bet on fibroblasts as the secret to treating myriad ailments. Fibroblasts, the most common type of cell in the body, are the primary cells that compose connective tissue.

Interested investors can find a prospectus to peruse before taking the leap. FibroBiologics filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) on November 7, 2023. In September, FibroBiologics CEO Pete O’Heeron told InnovationMap, “I think what we're going to see is that fibroblasts are going to end up winning... They're just a better overall cell than the stem cells.”

O’Heeron was first exposed to the possibilities of fibroblasts as a means of regrowing discs in the spine. Since starting the company in 2008 as SpinalCyte, O’Heeron and FibroBiologics have organically written and filed more than 320 patents. Potential treatments go far beyond spinal surgery to include wound care, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

According to O’Heeron, the goal in going public is to raise capital for human trials.

“We’ve had really fantastic results with animals and now we’re ready for humans,” he explained in September. “We've done small human trials, but we haven't done the large ones that are going to get the commercialization approval from the FDA.”

FibroBiologics is growing with impressive speed. O’Heeron told us that he is hiring as quickly as he is able to find qualified scientists with the expertise to do the one-of-a-kind work required. The company opened a new lab last fall at the UH Technology Bridge, Newlin-Linscomb Lab for Cell Therapies. With its new status as a publicly traded company, FibroBiologics is primed to break even more ground.

FibroBiologics is opening a unique new lab at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston regenerative medicine company opens new lab at UH

cell therapy innovation

Pete O’Heeron wants you to know that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was originally released as a B-side. What does this nugget about Queen have to do with regenerative medicine? For O’Heeron and his company, FibroBiologics, it means everything.

That’s because most scientists consider stem cells the A-side when it comes to the race to curing disease. But FibroBiologics has set its sights on fibroblasts. The most common cell in the body, fibroblasts are the main cell type in connective tissue.

“Everyone was betting on stem cells, and we started betting on fibroblasts,” says O’Heeron, who started the company in 2008 as SpinalCyte. “I think what we're going to see is that fibroblasts are going to end up winning, there are more robust, more that are lower cost cell, they have higher therapeutic values, higher immune modulation. They're just a better overall cell than the than the stem cells.”

Since a neurosurgeon and a dermatologist first introduced O’Heeron to the idea of using fibroblasts to regrow discs in the spine, the company has expanded its reach to include promising treatments for multiple sclerosis and cancer and in wound care. Imagine a world where doctors lay fibroblasts directly onto surgical incisions after surgery, cutting the time for healing in half.

FibroBiologics has organically written and filed more than 320 patents.

“It's quite a unique situation. I don’t think that in other areas of science that you have such a wide open area to go out and patent. It's just it was a brand new area nobody had been working on,” O’Heeron explains.

And soon, investors will be able to own a stake in the impressive work being forged in Houston. FibroBiologics, previously FibroGenesis, was formed in order to go public in a direct NASDAQ listing. The goal is to access the capital necessary to go to human trials. Earlier this year, the company also launched a crowdfunding campaign.

“We’ve had really fantastic results with animals and now we’re ready for humans,” says O’Heeron. “We've done small human trials, but we haven't done the large ones that are going to get the commercialization approval from the FDA.”

With that in mind, the company just signed a deal with University of Houston’s Innovation Center. On Thursday, September 7, FibroBiologics will dedicate the Newlin-Linscomb Lab for Cell Therapies in the UH Technology Bridge. The new lab is named for former player and color commentator for the Houston Rockets, Mike Newlin and his wife, Cindy, as well as Pam and Dan Linscomb, a founding partner of Kuhl-Linscomb, one of the largest wealth management companies in Houston.

Other big local names newly attached to the company are astronaut Kate Rubins and Elizabeth Shpall, the director of the cell therapy laboratory at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Both have joined FibroBiologics as members of its scientific advisory board.

To fill the lab, O’Heeron says that he is adding to his team as quickly as he is able. The barrier is the fact that there are few, if any people in the world with the exact qualifications he’s seeking.

“Anytime you're breaking new scientific ground, you can't really just go out and recruit someone with that background because it really doesn't exist,” he says. But he is willing to teach and challenge scientists who are the right fit, and is hoping to expand the team in the new lab.

But like Queen did in 1975, FibroBiologics is pioneering a category of its own. And that’s something worth betting on.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Ben Jawdat of Revterra, Pete O'Heeron of FibroBiologics, and Jay Manouchehri of Fluence Analytics. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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 tech to clean energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Ben Jawdat founded Revterra in Houston based on a unique kinetic energy storage technology. The company has created away to better optimize existing grid-based electric vehicle charging ports while still minimizing a carbon footprint. The startup hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Read more and listen to the episode.

Pete O'Heeron, CEO and chairman of FibroBiologics

Pete O'Heeron leads FibroBiologics as CEO and chairman. Photo via Fibrobiologics.com

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release. Read more.

Jay Manouchehri, CEO of Fluence Analytics

Fluence Analytics has exited to a multinational Japanese engineering and software giant. Image via FluenceAnalytics.com

Yokogawa, which has its US operations based in Sugar Land, acquired Fluence Analytics Inc. in a deal announced last week. The terms of the deal were not disclosed and, effective immediately, the company operate as Yokogawa Fluence Analytics. Jay Manouchehri, who joined the company in 2022, will continue to serve as CEO of the entity.

“Combining forces with Yokogawa Electric enables us to capture the full value of our unique data sets, and we can't wait to deliver this added value to our customers," Manouchehri says in a news release. "Together, we will enable autonomous operations and digital transformation in the polymer and biopharma industries."

Founded in 2012 in New Orleans, Fluence Analytics moved to Houston in 2021 following a $7.5 million venture capital raise led by Yokogawa Electric Corp., which has its North American headquarters in Sugar Land. Read more.

You can now hop online and invest in this promising cell therapy startup. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

money moves

A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals, Pete O'Heeron of Fibrobiologics, and Brandy Guidry of The Cannon. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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 innovation to job training technology — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

Allie Danziger is taking the workforce development programming she's created for training and matching interns with businesses to a whole new level. The new offering gives companies an opportunity to streamline their onboarding process with Ampersand's plug-and-play programming.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested." Click here to read more.

Pete O'Heeron, CEO and chairman of FibroBiologics

Pete O'Heeron leads FibroBiologics as CEO and chairman. Photo via Fibrobiologics.com

Fibroblasts have so much potential for a wide range of cell therapy treatments — the opportunities are endless, according to Pete O’Heeron, CEO, founder, and chairman of FiberBiologics, a Houston-based company that’s using fibroblast cell technology to treat a variety of chronic diseases.

With over 150 patents issued or pending, O'Heeron's team has the most intellectual property surrounding fibroblasts in the world and, while there is a lot of activity in the stem cell space, they are the leader when it comes to fibroblasts, he says. FiberBiologics is the name of the entity O'Heeron is hoping to take public by the end of the year, but the business originated as SpinalCyte, specializing in spinal treatment, before evolving into FibroGenesis as the technology began treating more parts of the body.

"With fibroblasts being the most common cell in the human body, you have to assume its involved in every process of the human body," O'Heeron says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's literally not biological process in the body where fibroblasts are not involved." Click here to listen to the episode and read more.

​Brandy Guidry, Pearland navigator at The Cannon

The Pearland Innovation Hub celebrates its launch this month. Photo via pearlandinnovationhub.com

The Pearland Economic Development Corp. has launched the Pearland Innovation Hub, aimed at connecting small businesses with programs and services that are designed to contribute to their success.

The Pearland Innovation Hub is managed through a partnership between the Pearland Economic Development Corp. and The Cannon, a Houston-area business networking community for entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate innovators. For now, the hub does not officially have a physical space. The Cannon hired Brandy Guidry to run the Pearland hub. She has more than 17 years of experience in business operations; engineering; technical marketing; innovation; and strategic planning, project, and program management.

“The Pearland Innovation Hub is a groundbreaking initiative to support existing and aspiring small business owners,” Guidry adds. Click here to read more.


Pete O'Heeron leads FibroBiologics as CEO and chairman. Photo via Fibrobiologics.com

Houston cell therapy company prepares to IPO, move into new facility

Houston Innovators Podcast episode 135

Stem cells have had their time in the spotlight for a while, and now it's time for fibroblasts to have their moment, according to Pete O’Heeron, CEO, founder, and chairman of FibroBiologics, a Houston-based company that’s using fibroblast cell technology to treat a variety of chronic diseases.

The two types of cells are the only ones that can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, meaning that specialists can take healthy stem cells and fibroblasts from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. And, according to O'Heeron and his team, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."

With over 150 patents issued or pending, O'Heeron's team has the most intellectual property surrounding fibroblasts in the world and, while there is a lot of activity in the stem cell space, they are the leader when it comes to fibroblasts, he says. FibroBiologics is the name of the entity O'Heeron is hoping to take public by the end of the year, but the business originated as SpinalCyte, specializing in spinal treatment, before evolving into FibroGenesis as the technology began treating more parts of the body.

"With fibroblasts being the most common cell in the human body, you have to assume its involved in every process of the human body," O'Heeron says. "There's literally not biological process in the body where fibroblasts are not involved."

The strongest treatments under FibroBiologics's umbrella are for degenerative disc disease, orthopedics, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. With these applications progressing, O'Heeron has imminent IPO plans for the company.

"We're in the process of getting the company public so that we can have access to the resources to do larger scale human trials. So, I think over the next year you'll see us launch at least two large scale human trials with fibroblast with the intention of submitting to the FDA for commercialization," O'Heeron says.

The company is in the process of building out a new 14,000-square-foot-space that will allow FibroBiologics to house its office, lab, and manufacturing space under one roof for the first time.

"These are fantastic robust cells, and we want to be able to control the quality and potency of them and how they ship out and how we're able to transfer those cells to the end user," O'Heeron says.

He shares more about the company and the impact he expects fibroblasts to have on cell therapy treatment. 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.