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.

A Houston research team is studying the effects of regenerative medicine on hearts. Photo via TMC.org

Innovative Houston lab works with 'ghost hearts' to study impact of regenerative medicine

stem cell magic

Ask any high achiever and they’ll tell you — failure is the path to success.

As Camila Hochman-Mendez puts it, “I’m like Thomas Edison, right? I know a thousand ways of how not to create a lightbulb.” But she’s not really talking about electricity. Hochman-Mendez is director of Regenerative Medicine Research and the Biorepository Core at Texas Heart Institute.

Hochman-Mendez follows another pioneering woman in the role, Doris Taylor. The younger scientist took on the prime job when Taylor left in 2020. By then, Hochman-Mendez had been at The Texas Heart Institute for three years, moving from research scientist to assistant director in just four months.

Regenerative Medicine is every bit as exciting as it sounds. At Hochman-Mendez’s lab, her team creates ghost hearts — organs from which all cells are scrubbed, leaving collagen, fibronectin, and laminin in the shape of the formerly beating ticker. The goal is to use the decellularized organs as protein scaffolds that, once injected with stem cells, will once again contract and pump blood.

Hochman-Mendez cautions that we are still years away from that point, but her lab is working hard to get there.

“The ultimate goal is to develop functional hearts that can be used for transplant,” says Hochman-Mendez.

Those hearts would be made from the patient’s own cells, avoiding organ rejection, which the scientist says is essentially trading one disease for another. But she is realistic about that fact that there are many barriers to her success.

“It does come with a lot of technical challenges,” she says.

These challenges include the simple number of cells that billions, and potentially hundreds of billions of cardiomyocytes are needed to recreate a human heart. The necessary protocols, Hochman-Mendez explains, are extremely costly and labor intensive.

It also takes 60 days for the cells to reach a maturity at which they can function. The lab recently received a pair of grants targeted at creating bioreactors that can be reliable for at least those 60 days.

The third major issue facing the Regenerative Medicine lab is contamination.

“It needs to be very sterile,” says Hochman-Mendez. “It needs to be so clean that if you have one tiny bacteria there, you’re screwed.”

Fortunately, the scientist says that her favorite hobby is computer programming. She and a physician colleague have created a robotic arm that can help to prevent the contamination that often stemmed from humans manually injecting stem cells into the decellularized organs.

This not only works towards solving the contamination problem, it also allows the team to more accurately distribute the cells that they add, using an injection map. To that end, she is producing a three-dimensional model of a protein scaffold that will allow her team and other scientists in the field of regenerative medicine to understand how the cells really disperse when they inject them.

When will her lab produce working hearts?

“I try to be very conservative on timing,” she says.

She explains that it will take significant leaps in technology to make a heart mature to the level at which it’s usable for an adult body in 60 days.

“That’s magic and I don’t believe in magic,” she says, but adds that she hopes to have a prototype ready to be tested in five years.

Hochman-Mendez does this all with a small team of nine researchers, most of whom happen to be female.

“The best candidates are the ones that I select," she says. "The majority are females. I think it’s a mix of trying to be very unbiased, but I usually don’t even look at the name before looking at the CV to preselect the people that I interview.”

And together, Hochman-Mendez are making medical history, one success-spawning failure at a time.

Camila Hochman-Mendez is director of Regenerative Medicine Research and the Biorepository Core at Texas Heart Institute. Photo via texasheart.org

The new biotech accelerator has already worked with two companies, which have relocated their operations to Houston. Getty Images

Houston millionaire starts biotech accelerator for companies focusing on regenerative medicine

Stem cell-erator

A new Houston-based startup accelerator is planning to advance companies focusing on regenerative medicine and stem cell treatment.

Houston Healthspan Innovation Group was created by founder and CEO Ed Bosarge, a local entrepreneur who's made millions of developing health care and finance technology.

"From day one, Houston Healthspan will play a significant role in shaping Houston's vibrant life sciences scene with its seasoned leadership and state-of-the-art facilities," Bosarge says in a news release. "Houston Healthspan may be a tipping point for the region's life sciences community."

The program will provide its participating startups and joint venture partners with expertise and resources in biology, clinical disease, therapeutic delivery systems, finance, and marketing, per the release.

The accelerator will be housed out of the Houston Healthspan Bio Labs —10,000 square feet of lab space just south of the Texas Medical Center. The labs will provide the scientists and researchers with cutting-edge technologies, large cleanrooms, and cGMP cell culture workstations will be used for cell manufacturing, bioprocessing, and therapeutic protocol development. The lab can even handle small-scale biologics manufacturing.

"Gaining access to lab space is a significant hurdle many start-up life sciences companies must overcome," says Dr. Steven Greco, chief science officer at Houston Healthspan. "Our Bio Labs address this need and offer a compelling and ideal setting for start-ups and joint-venture partners to conduct pre-clinical studies and obtain valuable research services."

Houston Healthspan has already started working with two regenerative medicine companies that have both relocated their operations to Houston. Rejenevie Therapeutics™, which moved from New Jersey, develops therapies for immune system restoration as well as age-related illnesses. Formerly based in Hawaii, Tissue Genesis created the Icellator X®, a technology that focuses on stem cell isolation.

"With two collaborator companies like Rejenevie and Tissue Genesis working out of our Houston Healthspan Bio Labs, we can offer significant resources and expertise for start-up and joint-venture partners to thrive and succeed," says Eric Schaeffer, chief strategy officer, in the release.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.