NeuraStasis, which originated out of the TMC Biodesign program, is launching its latest study in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

A handful of Houston startups were selected for a national accelerator program. Photo via Getty Images

4 Houston startups selected for preeminent medtech accelerator

ready to grow

Four Houston startups have been selected for the 2023 cohort of the MedTech Innovator’s four-month accelerator program.

Los Angeles-based MedTech Innovator, which bills itself as the world’s largest medtech accelerator, will award $800,000 in funding to winners of its competitions throughout the 2023 program. The grand prize is $350,000.

Almost 1,200 startups applied to participate in this year’s accelerator. From that group, MedTech Innovator, its corporate partners, and more than 400 judges picked nearly 200 candidates for in-person pitching and partnering events. Sixty-one startups ultimately were chosen for the 2023 cohort, which kicks off June 14 and 15.

Forty-two of the 61 startups will participate in MedTech Innovator’s corporate mentorship program, and five companies will join a plastic surgery accelerator in conjunction with the American Society for Plastic Surgeons.

MedTech Innovator says more than 500 startups have completed its accelerator program and have secured $6.8 billion in follow-on funding.

“We are proud of our stellar track record of identifying and perfecting the most innovative medtech startups in the world,” Paul Grand, CEO and founder of MedTech Innovator, says in a news release.

The four Houston companies selected for the MedTech Accelerator’s 2023 cohort are:

  • Ankr. The startup (whose name is pronounced “anchor”) provides a caregiving platform for cancer patients in the U.S. As of 2022, there were an estimated 18.1 million cancer survivors across the country. The company won The Ion’s Houston Startup Showcase in 2021.
  • NeuraStasis. The startup is developing an electrical stimulation device to delay the effects of acute ischemic stroke. This type of stroke happens when blood flow to the brain decreases. Acute ischemic stroke affects about 700,000 people in the U.S. each year. The company was selected for last year’s cohort of the UCSF Rosenman Institute’s Rosenman Innovators program.
  • Nininger Medical. The startup is working on a device for minimally invasive replacement of the tricuspid valve. Today, an estimated 1.6 million Americans experience tricuspid regurgitation. This type of heart disease occurs when the tricuspid valve’s flaps don’t close correctly. In 2021, the company received a $256,000 National Science Foundation grant.
  • Prana Thoracic. The startup is developing a tool for minimally invasive removal of lung tissue in lung cancer patients. In March, the company announced $3 million in series A funding.

Last year, three Houston companies were selected for the program. The startups — Ad Vital, Corveus Medical, and CorInnova.

Over 1,000 companies applied to participate in the 2023 MedTech Innovator Accelerator, 200 pitched in person, and 61 startups were selected. Graphic via https://medtechinnovator.org/

Houston's medical innovation community congregated to discuss breakthrough innovations in health care. Photo via Getty Images

Houston organizations announce 10 most promising life science startups

future of health care

What startups are creating the future of health care? A Houston conference this week gathered to discuss.

The 10th annual Texas Life Science Forum hosted by BioHouston and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship engaged thought leadership within the life science community with panels, discussions, and more. Additionally, 49 companies pitched their solutions across medical device, therapeutics, pharmaceuticals, and more to the crowd.

Austin-based Dynamic Light won the Michael E. DeBakey Memorial Life Science Award, established by BioHouston in honor of the groundbreaking Houston cardiovascular surgeon. The software company integrates with microscope or robotic systems to provide better visuals to surgeons and health care providers and reduce medical errors, radiation and costs. The award was presented by Ann Tanabe, CEO of BioHouston.

The event also named the 10 most promising life science companies selected by investors and presented by the Greater Houston Partnership. This year's selection included the following companies, in alphabetical order.

Ares Immunotherapy

Photo via Getty Images

Based in Cartersville, Georgia, Ares Immunotherapy uses a unique subset of T-cells for the treatment of solid tumors. According to the company, it is is preparing for a first in man trial in mesothelioma in 2023.

Corveus Medical

Photo courtesy of TMC

Houston-based Corveus Medical, which was formerly known as Caridian Medical, is a part of TMC's Biodesign program. The company was founded by Ishan Kamat, COO, and Tyler Melton, CEO.

"We are developing a novel, catheter-based device that performs a targeted sympathetic nerve ablation to treat heart failure," according to the company. "Our solution leverages the body’s natural mechanisms to bring fluid levels back to normal, giving physicians an effective treatment option, reducing costs for hospitals, and improving quality of life for the patient."

Drusolv Therapeutics

Photo via Pexels

Drusolv Therapeutics, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was founded out of Harvard University and been validated in a proof-of-concept clinical trial. The company's product, a novel reformulation of atorvastatin, is targeting age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, a serious eye disease. According to the company, it's a $4 billion a year, unmet need.

EMPIRI

Photo via jlabs.jnjinnovation.com

Houston-based EMPIRI is an early-stage biotechnology company currently focusing on precision oncology and utilizing automation for personal diagnosis. The company works out of JLABS @ TMC.

"Our proprietary 3D tissue culture method, E-slices, enables personalized drug response measurements from intact patient tissues," per the company. "E-slice has been clinically validated to accurately predict individual cancer patient responses to chemotherapies, targeted therapies, a immunotherapies."

Lapovations

Photo via Getty Images

Based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Lapovations is working on technologies that improve laparoscopy.

"Our flagship product AbGrab is a single-use device that uses suction to lift the abdominal wall prior to closed insertion entry," according to the company. "Manually lifting can be difficult and unreliable, especially with obese patients or for clinicians with small hands."

Maxwell Biosciences

Photo by Chokniti Khongchum from Pexels

Austin-based Maxwell Biosciences is creating anti-infectives that inactivate a broad spectrum of viruses. The company's product, CLAROMERS, has seen success in its preclinical animal studies, as well as lab-grown human tissues. Maxwell is fueled by over $30 million in non-dilutive and government funding (e.g. DARPA, NIH, NIAID).

NeuraStasis

Image via neurastasis.com

Doctors have to respond quickly when treating ischemic stroke patients, and Houston-based NeuraStasis is working on a way to give them more time. Each minute a patient is waiting, irreparable damage is being done. The company's noninvasive solution uses electrical neurostimulation to preserve brain functionality. NeuraStasis is based in JLABS @ TMC.

Vena Medical

Image via venamed.ca

Canada medical device company Vena Medical is working on the "world's smallest camera" that is able to record inside veins and arteries to help physicians treat stroke.

Vivifi Medical

Photo courtesy of TMC

Houston-based Vivifi Medical, a Texas Medical Center Innovation company, is working to improve the quality of life of patients with Male Infertility and benign prostatic hyperplasia — 12 million men in the United States alone — by ending recurrency via suture-less laparoscopic technology.

XN Health

Image via xn-health.com

XN Health, based in Houston, has developed a novel approach to phrenic nerve stimulation to treat progression of ventilator induced diaphragm disfunction to help wean patients off the ventilator faster. The technology should speed up patient liberation times, shortening ICU stay, improve healthcare outcomes, and reduce health care costs.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

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.