Here's what life science startups were named most promising at the recent Rice Alliance Texas Life Science Forum.. Getty Images

Houston hosted an annual meeting of the minds that included thoughtful discussions, presentations, panels, and startup pitches within the life science industry.

The Texas Life Science Forum, organized and hosted by the Rice Alliance and BioHouston, took place on November 6 at Rice University's Bioscience Research Collaborative. Throughout the day, over 50 life science startups pitched to the audience. At the end of the forum, 10 startups — most of which are based in Houston — were recognized as being the most promising.

Here's what life science startups you should be keeping an eye out for.

Abilitech Medical

abilitech

Photo via abilitechmedical.com

A St. Paul, Minnisota-based medical device company, Abilitech Medical develops assistive technology to Multiple sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Parkinson's and stroke patients. The first product, Alibitech Assist, will be cleared by the FDA in 2020, with other devices to follow in 2022 and 2023.

AgilVax

agilvax

Photo via agilvax.com

Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, AgilVax is a biopharmaceutical company that works with chemotherapy, checkpoint and KRAS inhibitors to fight various cancers. The company's AX09 is an immunotherapeutic that is headed for human clinical trials in 2020. Another product, M5, is a monoclonal antibody currently in preclinical trials.

Altoida

altoida

Photo via altoida.com

Altoida, based in Houston, has created a medical device that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to collect functional and cognitive data in patients to determine their risk Mild Cognitive Impairment from Alzheimer's Disease. The Altoida Neuro Motor Index has been cleared by the FDA and CE and detects cognitive decline with a 94 percent diagnostic accuracy six to 10 years ahead of the onset of symptoms.

ColubrisMX

Photo via Pexels

Houston-based ColubrisMX makes surgical robots specializing in minimally invasive and endoluminal surgeries. The company's team of engineers and surgeons works adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

Cord Blood Plus

stem cell

Photo via Getty Images

Cord Blood Plus, based in Galveston, is working to commercialize its human umbilical cord blood stem cell technology. The company's primary mission is to use its research and treatment on breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy in order to prevent infections, speed up recovery, and shorten hospital stays.

CorInnova

CorInnova

Photo via CorInnova.com

Another Houston company, CorInnova is a medical device company that has developed a cardiac assist device to treat heart failure without many of the consequences from standard treatment. The device is able to self expand and gently compress the heart in sync with the heartbeat.

Mesogen

mesogen

Photo via Mesogen.com

Mesogen, which is based in The Woodlands, is in the business of using a patient's own cells to grow a human kidney for transplant. The tissue engineering technology allows for the creation of a kidney in less than a year with less risk of transplant rejection and a better quality of life over dialysis treatment.

Saranas

Courtesy of Saranas

Houston-based Saranas has created its Early Bird device to more quickly and more accurately detect bleeding in the human body. The company, which underwent successful clinical trials last year, recently received FDA clearance and launched the device in the United States.

Stream Biomedical

stream biomedical

Photo via streambiomedical.com

Stream Biomedical Inc. is tapping into a therapeutic protein that has proven to be neuroprotective and neuroreparative. The Houston company is aiming to apply the treatment in acute stroke cases and later for traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer's, and dementia cases.

VenoStent

Photo via venostent.com

Houston-based VenoStent has created a device that allows a successful stent implementation on the first try. VenoStent's SelfWrap is made from a shape-memory polymer that uses body heat to mold the stent into the vein-artery junction.

Houston-based Saranas' technology is now being premiered in the United States. Courtesy of Saranas

Houston medical device company launches is product in the U.S. and hires new exec

Early bird gets the worm

A Houston company is changing the game when it comes to early bleed detection, and now the company can provide its life-saving service to the United States.

Saranas Inc., which received FDA approval for its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System in March, announced that it is launching its device in the US. at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics Conference next week in San Francisco. The device is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. These medical procedures treat problems, such as aneurysms, that affect blood vessels.

"As the first and only early bleed detection system on the market, the Early Bird is ideally positioned to play a key role in making the rapidly expanding, minimally-invasive catheter-based procedures safer by providing physicians with bleed monitoring in real-time," says Saranas president and CEO, Zaffer Syed, in a news release. "With the launch of the Early Bird, physicians will now have a standard of care to monitor the bleed status of the patient during and post procedure, receive timely notifications of actual bleeds, and potentially reduce the severity of bleeding complications and resulting costs, while protecting clinical outcomes in patients undergoing endovascular procedures."

Around 20 percent of patience suffer a bleeding complication during endovascular procedures, like transcatheter aortic valve replacement, endovascular aneurysm repair, and percutaneous hemodynamic support, and, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, these complications result in higher mortality, longer hospital stays, and higher medical bills.

In other exciting news for the company, Saranas hired Tom Lucas as vice president of sales and marketing. He has 28 years of experience in medical sales, and he is tasked with business development, marketing, sales, and more for the company.

"Tom is a critical strategic hire for Saranas as we launch our first product in the U.S.," Syed says in the release. "His expertise will be invaluable as we expand distribution of the Early Bird into additional centers of excellence."

Saranas began its clinical trials last year after raising $2.8 million. The company revealed the results of those trials earlier this year, leading to the FDA approval.

"Our first-in-human study demonstrated that clinical concordance with Early Bird detection and CT scans (primary endpoint) was near perfect, and the early discovery of bleed onset and progression during the procedure occurred in 31 percent of cases with 69 percent occurring post procedure," says Saranas Chief Medical Officer Dr. Philippe Généreux in the release. "Compared to the current paradigm of waiting for symptoms, which could take hours to develop, the Early Bird allows physicians to detect bleeding in real-time and take the necessary actions quickly to protect the outcomes of the procedure and aid recovery for the patient."

The results are in for Houston-based Saranas' clinical trials. Courtesy of Saranas

Houston early bleeding detection device company reveals results of its clinical trials

blood tests

A Houston-based startup is closer to taking flight with a medical device designed to catch bleeding complications during medical procedures that involve blood vessels.

On May 22, researchers presented the results of a study showing the Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System from Houston-based Saranas Inc. detected various levels of bleeding in 63 percent of the patients who underwent endovascular procedures. These procedures treat problems, such as aortic aneurysms, that affect blood vessels.

No troubles were reported with the Early Bird device during the clinical trial, the researchers say.

Before this study, the Early Bird device hadn't been tested in humans. In all, 60 patients in five states participated in the clinical trial, which ran from August to December last year. Findings of the study were unveiled at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography Interventions 2019 Scientific Sessions in Las Vegas.

The study's authors say they plan to continue evaluating the device at medical institutions that want to better manage bleeding during endovascular procedures.

"This is the first time we're seeing how this device could help in a real-world patient setting, and we were very encouraged by the results. Right now, patients have a risk of vessel injury when undergoing endovascular procedures where the femoral artery or vein is used for vascular access," Dr. Philippe Genereux, principal investigator for the study and a cardiologist at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, New Jersey, says in a news release.

"This technology allows us to detect bleeding in real-time," Genereux adds, "which means we can take action quickly and improve the outcomes of the procedure and recovery for the patient."

In March, the Early Bird device — invented at Houston's Texas Heart Institute — received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval as a "novel" medical device.

Saranas says Early Bird is the first and only device of its type. The FDA approval and the promising results of the clinical trial pave the way for the eventual launch of the device into the healthcare market.

A forecast from professional services firm KPMG predicts the global market for medical devices will reach nearly $800 billion by 2030. Early Bird aims to capture a sliver of that market by addressing an expensive and potentially fatal problem. One-fifth of patients experience bleeding complications during large-bore endovascular procedures. Research shows these complications are associated with a greater risk of death, longer hospital stays, and higher healthcare costs.

The Early Bird device is meant to decrease those complications by quickly alerting medical professionals to signs of bleeding during endovascular procedures.

As explained by the Texas Heart Institute, the Early Bird employs a sheath — a plastic tube that helps keep arteries and vessels open — embedded with sensors that measure the electrical resistance across a blood vessel. When the Early Bird senses a change in the electrical resistance, medical professionals receive audible and visual notifications about potential internal bleeding. If detected early, this bleeding can be minimized.

Altogether, Saranas has raised $12 million from investors, including a $2.8 million round in May 2018. The company was founded in 2013.

"What attracted me to Saranas is that our solution has the potential to meaningfully reduce serious bleeding complications that worsen clinical outcomes and drive up healthcare costs," says Zaffer Syed, who joined the startup as president and CEO in 2017. "In addition, our device may support access of important minimally invasive cardiac procedures by allowing them to be performed more safely."

Houston-based Saranas has received de novo distinction from the FDA for its bleed monitoring technology. Courtesy of Saranas

Houston medical device company gains FDA approval

EarlyBird got the worm

When it comes to early bleeding detection, Houston-based Saranas, which closed $2.8 million in funding last year, is ahead of the game with its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System. The Food and Drug Administration has recognized the medical device company and granted it De Novo distinction.

"Gaining FDA approval for the Early Bird is a significant milestone for Saranas as it demonstrates our continued commitment to address an unmet need for real-time detection and monitoring of endovascular bleed complications," says Saranas president and CEO, Zaffer Syed in a release. "As the first and only device on the market for early bleed detection, we have the potential to significantly reduce bleeding complications and related healthcare costs, while improving clinical outcomes in patients undergoing endovascular procedures."

The Early Bird technology is designed to detect bleeding from vessel injury caused by a surgery, for instance. One in five patients experienced a bleed complication in over 17,000 large-bore transcatheter procedures, according to the release which cites the National Inpatient Sample Database.

"Bleeding remains an Achilles' heel of advancing minimally-invasive, catheter-based procedures," says Dr. Dimitrios Karmpaliotis, director of Chronic Total Occlusions, Complex and High Risk Angioplasty at Columbia University Medical Center, in the release. "The Early Bird will play a key role in making these procedures safer in the future by providing physicians bleed monitoring in real-time."

In May, Saranas received $2.8 million in funding $2.8 million in funding from investors to enable testing of Early Bird. In all, the startup has collected $12 million from investors. A month after the funding announcement, Saranas was one of 50 startups chosen for the MedTech Innovator program, which nurtures medical technology companies.

Currently in the piloting stage, Saranas plans to commercially launch the Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System in select markets across the United States. Currently, the company hasn't disclosed a timeline for that roll out.

The De Novo distinction's purposes is to review new technologies and mitigate risk as they prepare to enter the market. In December, the FDA proposed new procedures and criteria for the De Novo classification process.

"The De Novo pathway for novel medical devices allows the FDA to conduct a rigorous review of new technologies so that patients have timely access to safe and effective medical devices to improve their health," says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in a release. "At the same time, the FDA is modernizing its 510(k) pathway, which is used for clearance of low- to moderate-risk devices that are substantially equivalent to a device already on the market. The De Novo pathway provides a vehicle for establishing new predicates that can reflect modern standards for performance and safety and can serve as the basis for future clearances. Our goal is to make the De Novo pathway significantly more efficient and transparent by clarifying the requirements for submission and our processes for review."

As medicine and technology both advance, these Houston startups are at the forefront of the industry. Getty Images

5 Houston medical device companies changing the industry

The future is now

With the Texas Medical Center at the heart of Houston, health advancement opportunities are endless. Medical breakthroughs are happening across town, but as technology advances, the industry is seeing more and more startups popping up to take new tech tools and applying them to traditional medical devices and procedures.

These five Houston startups are developing the future of the industry — one device at a time.

Portable Therapeutix

For years, Squid Compression has helped ease the pain of patients in doctor's offices. Now, anyone can get the treatment on the go. Photo via squidgo.com

The country is currently in an opiod crisis, and one solution is making pain-relieving devices more accessible to patients. That's what Houston-based startup Portable Therapeutix LLC is trying to do with its drug-free solution to pain called Squid Go. The portable device is designed to ease the pain and swelling of sore joints and muscles using cold therapy and compression therapy. It's a follow-up to the company's Squid Compression, a pain management device launched in 2013 for patients at rehabilitation centers, hospitals, doctor's offices, and the like.

To reap the benefits of Squid Go, a consumer uses the device for just 15 minutes. Squid Go — which combines a cold gel pack with proprietary compression technology — features special air pockets that inflate and deflate, gently massaging the body part needing treatment. That massaging boosts circulation and reduces swelling.

"Increased circulation brings more nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the area, promoting recovery," says Sam Stolbun, co-founder of Portable Therapeutix. "Meanwhile, [the] gentle compression also drives the pain-relieving cold from the gel pack deeper into the tissues to alleviate soreness and discomfort." Read more about Squid Go here.

Zibrio

Balancing is important throughout your life, and Zibrio has the tools and tips for you to use to stay centered. Pexels

From NASA to your bathroom floor — Katharine Forth has found a new way to track balance. With her company, Zibrio, people can have the everyday ability to figure out how balanced they are.

"The machines typically used for balance measurement can be as large as a telephone booth, so we invented a new way to measure postural control using a much smaller mechanism that fit inside a moon boot," Forth says.

Zibrio is a health company that aims to be the gold standard of measuring balance. The Zibrio scale calculates users' weight like a typical scale and rates their balance on scale of 1 to 10.

The scale gathers data from your weight, your postural control, your muscles and other factors to calculate the rating. Andrea Case-Rogers, chief experience officer at Zibrio, describes a perfect rating of 10 as elusive for most, or "Simone Biles on a good day." Read more about Zibrio here.

Saranas Inc.

Saranas Inc. is testing its technology that can detect and track internal bleeding complications. Getty Images

A Houston-based medical device startup is on a twofold mission to reduce healthcare costs and improve the safety of complex medical procedures involving blood vessels. Saranas Inc. currently in clinical trials for its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System, which is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. If all goes well, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve Early Bird in 2019, Syed says. Then, the device would be made widely available to medical facilities across the country.

"What attracted me to Saranas is that our solution has the potential to meaningfully reduce serious bleeding complications that worsen clinical outcomes and drive up healthcare costs," says Zaffer Syed, president and CEO of Saranas. "In addition, our device may support access of important minimally invasive cardiac procedures by allowing them to be performed more safely."

Dr. Mehdi Razavi, a cardiologist with the Texas Heart Institute at Houston's Texas Medical Center, invented the device. It's being tested by the institute and other medical facilities in the U.S. As many as 100 patients will participate in the clinical trial, which is expected to last several months. Read more about Saranas and the Early Bird here.

EllieGrid

Courtesy of EllieGrid

Talking the right vitamins and medications at the right times shouldn't seem like more trouble than it's worth. Houston-based EllieGrid is a smart pill box that is easy to organize and stylish to use on the go. Plus, with a growing volume of users, the company is able to use its customer data to track medication compliance.

"What's really neat about EllieGrid is that we are starting to learn users' habits as days go by, so that we can trigger alarms at optimal times," says co-founder and CEO Abe Matamoros at The Cannon's female entrepreneurs pitch night.

For co-founder, Regina Vatterott, the company is about reinventing traditional medical devices that can be clunky or inefficient for daily use.

"We want to do more and more with medical devices because we think that people are always people before they are patients," Vatterott says. Read more about EllieGrid here — as well as more about the founder here.

Intelligent Implants

Intelligent Implant's co-founder, Juan Pardo, told the crowd at Demo Day that his company's device allows for 50 percent faster bone growth in patients. Photo by Cody Duty/TMC

Chronic lower back pain can result in a need for spinal fusion surgery — and 40 percent of those surgeries fail, says Juan Pardo, co-founder of Intelligent Implants, which has an office in Houston. Pardo and his team have come up with an implant that tracks post-op healing and introduces electronic stimulation wirelessly.

The device is the same size and shape as the spacer that surgeons currently use, but contains a technology that can deliver electronic stimulation therapy and monitor progress without needing batteries. The doctor is able to adjust treatment remotely, and the device can heal the patient 50 percent faster than the standard care.

Intelligent Implants was announced as the first in-residence company at the Center for Device Innovation by Johnson and Johnson and also launched its large animal studies. The company has a goal to raise $1.6 million, and has already secured $900,000 — $250,000 of which came from the new TMC Venture Fund. Read more about Intelligent Implants and the other Texas companies in its TMC cohort here.

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Lawyers specializing in startups are hard to comeby in Houston — but here's what you need to know

Guest column

One of the worst, and most expensive, mistakes that we see startup founders make in the very early days of their company is not realizing that hiring lawyers is a lot like hiring doctors: when the stakes are high, you need a highly experienced specialist.

Law has numerous specialties and sub-specialties, and hiring legal counsel with the wrong specialty can mean paying to reinvent the wheel, or simply getting advice that is out of sync with the norms of your industry and the expectations of your seasoned investors.

This challenge can be particularly acute for founders of startups located in Houston. The legal market in any particular city tends to mirror the dominant industries of that city. Houston has some of the world's most prominent energy and healthcare lawyers in the country, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about Houston's economy.

Startup lawyers, or more formally —corporate/securities lawyers who are sub-specialized in "emerging companies" — are a different story entirely. Given the nascent status of Houston's startup ecosystem, finding local lawyers who work with emerging technology companies and early-stage funding day in and day out, and know all the norms and nuances, is a challenge.

Very often we see founders get referred to a local lawyer who is a broad generalist that dabbles lightly in many practice areas. Their lack of depth in startup or venture capital work usually leads to clients paying for things that a more specialized lawyer, with a deeper set of precedent forms and institutional knowledge, could simply pull off the shelf. In other cases, founders get referred to very expensive senior corporate lawyers from firms designed for billion-dollar public company representation; totally overkill (and overpriced) for an early-stage startup.

What the smartest Houston founders discover, if they do their homework, is that leveraging the broader "Texas ecosystem" can help not just with sourcing talent for their employee roster or finding venture capital, but with sourcing specialized legal talent as well. In the case of Startup Lawyers, Austin's venture capital and startup ecosystem has produced numerous highly specialized lawyers whose depth of startup/vc experience easily compares with lawyers found in Silicon Valley, but who also regularly interact with investors in the Houston market; and therefore know their expectations. In the case of our firm, Egan Nelson (E/N), a significant number of our clients are located in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and other markets in the general regional area.

Historically, businesspeople have assumed that if they really want top-tier, highly specialized counsel, they had to find that counsel at large, multi-national law firms. That is no longer the case. The broader Texas ecosystem has produced a thriving group of specialized, high-end "boutique" law firms that are recruiting top-tier lawyers away from the traditional mega-firms, and leveraging technology to deliver "leaner" legal counsel; saving hundreds of dollars per hour for entrepreneurs.

It is not uncommon for us to see Houston startups utilizing an emerging companies corporate lawyer in Austin, a regulatory specialist lawyer in Houston, and a tax lawyer in Dallas; all from different firms. This is the future for how emerging companies will source their legal talent, without the constraints of geography or old-fashioned "all in one" law firm structures.

This trend really isn't that new. VCs from Austin and other Texas cities (and the coasts) have regularly been visiting Houston to fund companies, and Houston companies have regularly leveraged contacts in other markets to source specialized resources for their companies. The same dynamics have extended to finding legal counsel. "Localism," and an over-preoccupation with hiring everyone in the same city, isn't really just last year, it's more like last century. There is nothing about legal services for startups that requires any of your lawyers to be within your same city. Videoconferencing works great.

The growth of the Texas ecosystem, and the emergence of specialized boutique law firms, mean that Houston entrepreneurs have far more options to choose from for sourcing specialized legal counsel. Leverage those options to avoid engaging lawyers who are insufficiently experienced, or overkill, for the needs of your company. For more resources on finding and assessing the right lawyers for your Houston startup, see Startup Lawyers, Explained.

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Jose Ancer is an Emerging Companies Partner at Egan Nelson LLP. He also writes for Silicon Hills Lawyer, an internationally recognized startup/vc law blog focused on entrepreneurs located outside of Silicon Valley, including Texas.

Houston blockchain company taps into a new industry, hires new exec

diversifying

A Houston blockchain company that makes it easier and faster to process industry contracts, payment, and more has diversified its business again.

After expanding into the water services industry in August, Houston-based Data Gumbo Corp. has announced its next market: Construction. The startup, which works out of The Cannon Houston, has hired industry veteran Michael Matthews hired as industry principal to work directly on the company's efforts in the $9 trillion sector.

"Construction is one of the world's largest industries, but it has clearly fallen behind others in adopting technology and driving efficiency," says Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Michael is a recognized leader in the industry and his vision and experience make him an excellent fit to scale Data Gumbo into the construction sector."

Matthews has over 30 years of experience in construction. He says in the release that some of the issues of current practices result in 30 to 40 percent of project costs to be hidden, and he wants to use the GumboNet platform to provide solutions.

"The construction industry lags far behind other industries in both productivity improvement and technology adoption, resulting in billions of lost value," Matthews says in a news release. "The way companies come together to execute projects remains essentially the same despite technology's improvement and we have to make fundamental, disruptive changes to deliver more value."

The growing blockchain-as-a-service company closed $6 million series A round earlier this year. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Originally built for upstream drilling and completions within the oil and gas industry, Data Gumbo has grown its clientbase over the past few years. The company provides its blockchain-as-a-service services as a subscription for its clients.

Recently, the company was announced to be one of the two Houston-based companies in Plug and Play Tech Center's inaugural Houston cohort, and, earlier this year, the company was named among Crunchbase's top 50 hottest tech companiesCrunchbase's top 50 hottest tech companies. The growing company also hired another executive this summer —the company's new chief commercial officer is Sergio A. Tuberquia — following the closing of a $6 million series A round.

Become part of one of Houston’s most admired philanthropic groups

Be Their Voice

For the last 10 years, a special group of Houstonians have been walking the walk when it comes to helping one of the city's most revered institutions and changing lives every day.

Ambassadors for Texas Children's Hospital have been supporting patients through philanthropic donations and active engagement, and now you can, too.

The program has three goals: compassion, philanthropy, and advocacy. Just as Texas Children's strives to provide children and women with the best possible care, Ambassadors gain firsthand experience of the hospital's compassionate spirit and work tirelessly to embody this commitment in their actions.

They have given millions of dollars to help meet the hospital's needs, providing support where it will have the greatest impact, as well as standing and speaking up for patients through their own contributions and enlisting others in the cause.

Ambassadors also have the opportunity to attend exclusive, behind-the-scenes educational and social events to learn more about the patients they serve. This includes gatherings like Ambassadors On Call, which can range from luncheons that feature special guest lecturers and renowned health experts to question-and-answer sessions with leading scientists and physicians to behind-the-scenes tours of operating rooms and research facilities.

Family Fun Day is another special event for Ambassadors. This annual "party with a purpose" is a family-focused event where Ambassadors celebrate their work on behalf of Texas Children's. The day is filled with unique activities and lots of opportunities to meet new friends and spend time with old ones. To teach the next generation about philanthropy, the price of admission is one donated book.

To celebrate the successes of the year, Ambassadors gather at a member's home to share the spirit of the season. The holiday party also includes the presentation of the group's annual check to Texas Children's and the announcement of the coming year's philanthropic focus.

Ambassadors enjoy access to the hospital's navigation line services for assistance with referrals, appointments, and health and safety information for children — an invaluable resource for parents and grandparents alike.

For more information about becoming an Ambassador, visit texaschildrens.org/ambassadors or call 832-824-6900.

The holiday party includes the presentation of the group's annual check to the hospital. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital

With Ambassadors On Call, you gain access to behind-the-scenes tours and guest lecturers. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital