With the Texas Medical Center in their backyard, these Houston biotech companies are creating breakthrough technologies. Getty Images

Houston is the home of the largest medical center in the world, so it comes as no surprise that the Bayou City is also home to breakthrough technologies. Here are five Houston companies developing some of this biotech advancements.

Moleculin Biotech Inc.

Houston-based Moleculin has three different oncology technologies currently in trials. Getty Images

Immunotherapy and personalized medicine get all the headlines lately, but in the fight against cancer, a natural compound created by bees could beat them in winning one battle.

In 2007, chairman and CEO Walter Klemp founded Moleculin Biotech Inc. as a private company. The former CPA had found success in life sciences with a company that sold devices for the treatment of acne. That introduction into the field of medical technology pushed him toward more profound issues than spotty skin.

"Coincidentally, the inventor of that technology had a brother who was a neuro-oncologist at MD Anderson," Klemp recalls.

The since-deceased Dr. Charles Conrad slowly lured Klemp into what he calls the "cancer ecosphere" of MD Anderson. In 2016, the company went public. And it looks like sooner rather than later, it could make major inroads against some of the toughest cancers to beat. Read the full story here.

Cavu Biotherapies

Dr. Colleen O'Connor has adapted immunotherapy treatments to be used in dogs. Courtesy of CAVU Biotherapies

Breakthrough biotech doesn't have to just be for humans. More than three years after its founding, Houston-based veterinary biotech company CAVU Biotherapies' had its first cancer patient: a black Labrador in Pennsylvania diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma.

Dr. Colleen O'Connor, CEO and founder of CAVU Biotherapies, established the company in July 2015 with a goal to help pets live longer post-cancer diagnoses. O'Connor, who earned a PhD in toxicology with a specialty in immunology, has more than a decade of hands-on experience researching cancer treatments.

"Our goal is to scale up and be able to increase our dogs' qualities of life with us," O'Connor said. "We want to keep families intact longer and we want to be able to modernize cancer care for our animals." Read the full story here.

Innovative Biochips

iBiochips, led by founder Lidong Qin, was awarded a $1.5 million grant in September to help develop a new technology that delivers data about the cell's genetic makeup and reports abnormalities. Courtesy of Lidong Qin

Innovative Biochips, a Houston-based biotechnology company, is one step closer to commercializing technology that the company hopes will provide an opportunity for researchers to detect diseases earlier.

The company was founded three years ago by Dr. Lidong Qin, a professor at the Houston Methodist Research Institute's department of nanomedicine. He launched iBiochips as an independent faculty startup that licensed technology from Houston Methodist. Qin says he wanted to engineer and manufacture devices that focus on revolutionizing single-cell isolation and genetic analysis. Read the full story here.

Celltex

Celltex's stem cell technology has received positive results from its multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and rheumatoid arthritis patients. Courtesy of Celltex

A Houston stem cell company is making strides in regenerative medicine. Celltex's treatment has been proved effective with its patients. Eighty-three percent of multiple sclerosis patients have reported improvement of symptoms specific to their disease, as have 73 percent of Parkinson's sufferers. But the staggering fact is that 100 percent of 58 respondents with rheumatoid arthritis say they have benefited.

David Eller, chairman, co-founder and CEO of the company, also recently announced the company's expansion to Saudi Arabia. Read the full story here.

Ridgeline Therapeutics

Houston-based Ridgeline Therapeutics isn't going to allow you beat aging, but someday it may well help you to live without muscle loss or diabetes. Getty Images

Stan Watowich pictures a world where elderly people have the same healthy muscles they had at a younger age. Watowich is CEO of Ridgeline Therapeutics, a spin-off company of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston where he is an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and he wants to make it clear that he is not going to cure aging.

"You and I are still going to get old," he says. "But we have our hopes that as we get old our muscles will stay healthy."

He's talking about the drug candidate, RLT-72484. It has been shown to reactivate muscle stem cells and regenerate skeletal muscle in aged laboratory mice. Read the full story here.


Armed with their doctorate degrees and startups, these three STEM biotech innovators are going places. Courtesy photos

3 Houston heath tech innovators to know this week

Who's Who

Whether it's for dogs or dating, Houston is prime for innovative leaders in health science startups, and there are three in particular you need to know going into a new week. From a DNA-based dating app creator and a researcher curing cancer in dogs to cutting-edge biotech leader, here are the Houston innovators to know. Doctorate degrees and startup companies in hand, each of these entrepreneurs is going places.

Brittany Barreto, co-founder and CEO of Pheramor

Courtesy of Pheramor

Brittany Barreto was studying genetics in college, and her professor was talking about how there are 11 genes in DNA that can determine physical compatibility with others. She had the idea right then and there in the classroom to make a DNA-based dating app. Almost 10 years later, she's done it, with Pheramor.

The Houston startup has launched nationwide and is in the midst of another capital campaign. Barreto is also looking to expand her team to account for the growth and success.

Lidong Qin, founder of Innovative Biochips

Courtesy of Lidong Qin

Lidong Qin spends his days as a professor at the Houston Methodist Research Institute's department of nanomedicine, but three years ago, he expanded his resume. He launched his biotech startup, Innovative Biochips, as an independent faculty startup that licensed technology from Houston Methodist.

Qin says it can be difficult to launch a biotech startup in Houston, since the industry requires hefty initial funds to open a facility, get patents and hire a team of researchers. Now, iBiochips is armed with private investments and a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's Small Business Technology Transfer program to continue researching and developing early disease detection technologies.

Colleen O'Connor, founder of CAVU Biotherapies 

CAVU Colleen O'Connor

Courtesy of CAVU Biotherapies

Losing a pet is awful, and for so many people, pets are full-blown family members. When Colleen O'Connor lost her furry family members to cancer, she knew she had to do something about it. Cancer treatment in humans had evolved to include immunotherapy, and O'Connor thought man's best friend deserved an upgrade from the 1980s practices veterinarians use.

She created Houston-based CAVU Biotherapies, and, in September, the first treatment was administered to a black lab named Franklin. O'Connor is focused on expanding her treatment and its access to pups so that no pet owner has to prematurely say goodbye to good boys and girls.

iBiochips was awarded a $1.5 million grant in September to help develop a new technology that delivers data about the cell's genetic makeup and reports abnormalities. Getty Images

Houston-based biotech company aims to revolutionize cellular dissection technology

digital disease detective

Innovative Biochips, a Houston-based biotechnology company, is one step closer to commercializing technology that the company hopes will provide an opportunity for researchers to detect diseases earlier.

The company was founded three years ago by Dr. Lidong Qin, a professor at the Houston Methodist Research Institute's department of nanomedicine. He launched iBiochips as an independent faculty startup that licensed technology from Houston Methodist. Qin says he wanted to engineer and manufacture devices that focus on revolutionizing single-cell isolation and genetic analysis.

Qin says it can be difficult to launch a biotech startup in Houston, since the industry requires hefty initial funds to open a facility, get patents and hire a team of researchers.

"In the Houston area, even though it looks like it's a lot of state money (grants) around, it's very limited, and that's been a challenge of ours," Qin says.

But with the help of a $1.5 million investment from a private investor, Qin was able to launch iBiochips in 2015, and shortly after opened his own lab on Kirby Drive.

Recently, iBiochips was awarded a $1.5 million grant in September from the National Institutes of Health's Small Business Technology Transfer program. The grant will further support the company's research and development of an automated yeast dissection chip, which is designed to perform a raw analysis of single cells and deliver data about the cell's genetic makeup and report abnormalities.

Prior to the phase two grant, iBiochips was also awarded NIH's phase one grant of $225,000 in September 2017 to develop a prototype for the company's flagship cell isolation product, the Smart Aliquotor.

The Smart Aliquotor is a single-cell isolation dissection platform that allows scientists to analyze larger amounts of cells at a much faster rate than traditional isolation methods, Qin says. He says the system is also more convenient for researchers to operate because traditional cell isolation techniques require a lot of human effort.

To isolate the cells with a Smart Aliquotor, a scientist would take a patient's blood sample and inject it into a single point in the device. The blood sample would then travel through microfluidic channels into the device's 60 to 100 isolated holes, Qin says.

"In three days, we can handle about one million cells," Qin says. "In a traditional approach, people can handle only one or two cells in three days. So that is how we came to the [idea of the] chip can help a scientist do 20 years of work in three days."

The Smart Aliquotor can then be examined with iBiochips' newly funded automated dissection chip, which Qin says has the potential to detect cancer or infectious diseases earlier than before.

"If you isolate a cell by itself — even in the very beginning stage when the aggressive cells are not as dominating yet — you can still see that [abnormality in the sample]," Qin says.

iBiochips' products are currently only being manufactured for research use at clinical labs, universities and pharmacies. However, with the recent grant award, Qin says the company's research team plans to spend the next three to five years preparing the products for worldwide commercialization.


Dr. Lidong Qin is a professor at the Houston Methodist Research Institute's department of nanomedicine. He launched iBiochips as an independent faculty startup that licensed technology from Houston Methodist.Courtesy of Lidong Qin

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Houston startups dominate ‘most-promising’ companies announcement at annual event

on the list

Rice University played host this week to the 12th annual Texas Life Science Forum, where life science leaders and startup founders could network, learn and present pitches on their solutions to a wide array of health-related issues.

Hosted by Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and BioHouston on November 7, the event brought together more than 600 attendees for a series of keynote speakers and panels. This year, 45 early-stage therapeutic, diagnostic, medical device and digital health companies—many of which are based in Houston—also pitched their concepts.

Fort Worth-based AyuVis Research walked away from the event with the two top recognitions: The Michael E. DeBakey Memorial Life Science Award and the People's Choice Award. The company, which has developed a small molecule immunotherapy targeting bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) in preterm neonates and other respiratory disorders. The company is raising a $20 million Series A round to support its clinical development and is slated to pitch at IGNITE Health’s Fire Pitch 2023 today, November 9, at the Ion.

Each year the Rice Alliance and BioHouston also name its 10 most promising life science companies, selected by investors—seven out of 10 of which are based in Houston. This year's selection included the following companies, in alphabetical order:

  • 7 Hills Pharma: This Houston-based clinical stage immunotherapy company has developed the concept of allosteric activation of integrins to facilitate cell adhesion and promote immune responses. The concept has uses in preventing infection and cancer, and increasing the effectiveness of oncology drugs and infectious disease vaccines.
  • Bairitone Health: This Houston-based company is building a scalable diagnostic system for sleep apnea anatomy utilizing home-use wearable, passive Sonar technology and AI techniques.
  • Diakonos Oncology: Also based in Houston, Diakonos' Dendritic Cell Vaccine was awarded the FDA’s Fast Track designation. The clinical-stage biotech company's immunotherapies have shown early successes for hard-to-reach, aggressive cancers like Glioblastoma Multiforme.
  • Mongoose Bio: With more than 20 years of research, Mongoose specializes in T cell-based therapies for diverse solid tumors TCR-based therapies in cancer patients. The Houston-based company has developed an immunopeptidome discovery platform for TCR-based therapies in cancer patients.
  • Nandi Life Sciences: Nandi is developing antibodies for Avastin-resistant ovarian cancer, with
  • further application in breast, colorectal and lung cancer. The company is based out of Texas Medical Center Innovation.
  • NKILT Therapeutics: This Houston-based company's seed-stage cell therapy has applications in solid tumors, such as colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, clear cell renal carcinoma, endometrial
  • cancer and more. It is developing a novel and proprietary Chimeric ILT-Receptor.
  • NuVision Biotherapies: Based in the United Kingdom, NuVision has developed and proven a treatment for dry eye disease. It's known for its Omnigen and OmniLenz products and is raising a series A to scale, take the business to profitability and exit.
  • Panakeia Technologies: Also based in the UK, Panakeia has developed an AI-based software that can provide multi-omic biomarkers in minutes. Currently this process takes days or weeks. It's RuO platform can identify 4,500 known multi-omics cancer markers.
  • Taurus Vascular: A recent spin-out of the Texas Medical Center Innovation Biodesign program, Taurus is developing a novel, catheter-based solution for treating endoleaks, which can be related to aortic aneurysms.
  • YAP Therapeutics: The only California-based company to make the cut, this preclinical-stage biotech develops genetic medicines that leverage the company’s tissue renewal and regeneration platform to reverse and cure severe diseases, including heart failure, pulmonary diseases, retinal degeneration and hearing loss.

Last year, Bairitone Health took home the DeBakey and People's Choice awards.

Annual report ranks 4 Houston tech companies on list of fasting growing businesses

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Deloitte just unveiled the fastest-growing technology companies in North America — and four businesses from Houston made the cut.

For the 29th year, 2023 Technology Fast 500 ranked top tech, media, telecommunications, life sciences, and energy technology companies based on fiscal year revenue growth from 2019 to 2022. While no Houston business was able to break into the top 100, four did make the cut for this year's list.

“It is great to see Houston represented alongside established technology hubs on this year’s Fast 500 list,” Amy Chronis, vice chair, US Energy and Chemicals Leader and Houston managing partner at Deloitte, says in a statement. “Houston is planting seeds for future innovation, and the companies named to this year’s list confirm our city’s value proposition as an innovative community. We look forward to this growth continuing in the future and extend our congratulations to this year’s Houston winners.”

The four Houston companies that make the 2023 list are:

  • Direct Digital Holdings at No. 108 with 1,325 percent growth
  • Liongard at No. 208 with 680 percent growth
  • NatGasHub.com at No. 356 with 364 percent growth
  • P97 Networks at No. 506 with 225 percent growth

Thirty Texas companies made the list of the 541 ranked, making it the fourth most concentrated hub on the list behind the Bay Area, Tri-State Area, and New England. The companies on the list reported a revenue growth ranging from 201 percent to 222,189 percent over the three-year time frame from 2019 to 2022. The average growth rate was 1,934 percent and a median growth rate of 497 percent.

“Each year, we look forward to reviewing the progress and innovations of our Technology Fast 500 winners," Paul Silverglate, vice chair, Deloitte LLP and U.S. technology sector leader, says in the release. "This year is especially celebratory as we expand the number of winners to better represent just how many companies are developing new ideas to progress our society and the world, especially during a slow economy. While software and services and life sciences continue to dominate the top 10, we are encouraged to see other categories making their mark."

Software dominated the industry breakdown with 57 percent of the companies working in that field. However, the top company for 2023 was Vir Biotechnology Inc., a life science company that developed a COVID-19 treatment. Vir was also the top company in 2022.

Last year, only one Houston company made the list. At No. 372 Onit reported a revenue increase of 369 percent. The company also made the 2021 list, along with Graylog and Enercross.

Houston expert shares strategies for addressing  potential workforce shortages

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The energy industry, a vital part of Houston’s business ecosystem, faces the challenge of a shrinking workforce.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce report indicates the workforce has nearly two million fewer workers today as compared to February 2020. A considerable part of this decline can be attributed to retirement and early retirement rates, with the pandemic prompting three million people to early retirement. Furthermore, with an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 daily, the entire generation is expected to reach retirement age by 2030.

The tight labor market, coupled with the growing brain drain associated with retirement rates, should serve as a wake-up call for employers in the energy sector. There are tried-and-true strategies to prepare businesses for waves of retirement and ensure the knowledge does not walk out the door.

Upskilling: Invest in the workforce

Knowledge and skills go with workers are they retire. To mitigate the brain drain, companies need to invest in upskilling their existing employees and new hires. Establishing formal training and development opportunities can help enrich the workforce to pick up the responsibilities of retiring colleagues. This investment ensures a smooth transition, shows employees they are valued by the organization, and increases employee loyalty and engagement.

Adopting innovative training programs that cater to the specific needs of the energy sector is one approach. Technologies rapidly evolve, and employees must stay current to remain effective in their roles. Investing in the latest training programs, workshops and certifications will enable the workforce to thrive in a rapidly changing industry.

Mentoring programs: Pass the torch

Mentorship programs can play a pivotal role as more employees retire. Experienced employees nearing retirement can mentor younger workers, transferring knowledge and skills while ensuring a seamless transition of expertise. The value of mentorship programs can be priceless for an organization as they help transfer on-the-job learning and experiences that are not taught in the classroom.

A structured mentorship program usually proves most effective as it outlines the responsibilities of the mentors and mentees. A structured approach, which should have built-in accountability measures, ensures there is a productive knowledge transfer process.

Intentional recruitment: Attract and retain talent

A proactive recruitment approach is essential as businesses work to fill knowledge gaps. Companies in the energy sector should seek out talent to bridge the generational divide. This may include targeting candidates who have the relevant skills and knowledge, yet they are willing to adapt to the industry’s changing landscape.

Workplace culture is still a relevant and important component of attracting and retaining top-notch talent. Beyond competitive compensations packages, today’s job candidates look for growth opportunities and a focus on work-life balance.

Retaining knowledge: Document the expertise

Institutional knowledge will walk out the door as experienced employees retire. Companies can prepare for and mitigate the knowledge migration with knowledge-sharing systems and comprehensive documentation processes. An established process can help preserve information that may seem like second nature to more experienced employees and make it accessible to current and future employees. Asking retiring employees to document their expertise and best practices can safeguard their insights within the organization.

Covering bases: Create an alumni network

Retirement does not always mean the employee wants to hang up their proverbial hat entirely. Filling the knowledge gap as employees retire can be daunting. However, the development of an alumni network can extend the life of the institutional knowledge and knowledge-sharing process. Bringing back retirees on a project basis or to consult is a solution benefiting everyone involved.

Every industry must prepare for the impending wave of retirements. The energy industry’s significant impact on the Houston economy requires proactive and thoughtful solutions. The tight labor market and retirement rates should have businesses in this sector working diligently to fill the upcoming knowledge gaps through upskilling, mentoring, intentional recruitment, knowledge-sharing systems and alumni networks. Taking these steps now, the energy industry can circumnavigate workforce shortages and prepare for continued success.

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Jill Chapman is a director of early talent programs with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions. This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.