ScalaMed, which went through the TMC Accelerator in 2018, has been acquired. Photo via TMC

Healthcare services giant Cardinal Health has acquired Houston-based startup ScalaMed, whose platform transfers prescriptions directly to patients via a secure mobile app. The purchase price wasn’t disclosed.

ScalaMed now falls under the umbrella of a Cardinal-owned company called Outcomes. ScalaMed’s technology will be available throughout Cardinal’s nationwide pharmacy network.

“As healthcare continues to evolve toward patient preferences, the acquisition of ScalaMed allows us to center our connected ecosystem around the patient from the outset of their treatment journey — from the doctor’s office to the pharmacy to home,” Brent Stutz, senior vice president and general manager of Dublin, Ohio-based Outcomes, says in a news release. “Using ScalaMed’s technology, we can better support patients at every step along their treatment journey through unified communication and more informed insights that will help remove access and adherence barriers.”

Dr. Tal Rapke, founder and CEO of ScalaMed, says the process of digitizing prescriptions removes the patient from the equation, helping them bypass challenges such as forgetting medication while on vacation or lacking a convenient pharmacy nearby.

ScalaMed, founded in 2016 in Australia, raised $1.1 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. It was a member of the TMC Accelerator’s medtech program in 2018.

“With the scale and innovation Cardinal Health offers, we can revolutionize how prescriptions are filled and help solve the massive, costly challenge of medication nonadherence,” says Rapke, who’s a physician.

According to an article published in 2016 by the Journal of Managed Care & Specialty Pharmacy, medication nonadherence happens when a new medication is prescribed for a patient, but the patient does not obtain the medication or an appropriate alternative within an “acceptable” period after it was prescribed.

An article published in 2018 by The Permanente Journal reported that medication nonadherence happens with as many as 40 percent to 50 percent of patients who are prescribed drugs for chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. Each year, medication nonadherence costs the U.S. healthcare system $528 billion and contributes to about 275,000 avoidable patient deaths, according to a study published in 2018 in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy.

“Medication adherence … constitutes one of the ‘big hairy problems’ or ‘big hairy audacious goals’ of healthcare,” says an editorial published in 2020 by BMJ Journals.

gBETA has announced its second Houston cohort. Photo courtesy of gBETA

Early-stage startup accelerator names latest Houston cohort

ready cohort 2

An early-stage startup accelerator with a national presence has announced its latest cohorts across the country. Five Houston companies have been named to the local class.

The accelerator, gBETA, is a part of Madison, Wisconsin-based gener8tor's suite of accelerators, and announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually.

This week, gBETA named 50 startups across 10 cohorts to its fall program. Here are the five startups selected from Houston:

  • DOSS: Launched in April, DOSS uses artificial intelligence and data aggregation in the homebuying process.
  • Camelia Alise: The company creates gender-neutral skincare products to treat pseudo-folliculitis condition and has developed a specific spa curriculum for aspiring spa owners and specialists.
  • CaseCTRL: A management platform for surgeons, CaseCTRL's software-as-a-service technology uses AI and logistics to lower operational costs and simplify surgical planning.
  • Melanoid Exchange: An online platform, Melanoid Exchange is giving small minority businesses the opportunity to grow their business through eCommerce.
  • ScalaMed: The company has developed a smart prescriptions platform that provides care teams real-time information on their patients' drug management, and patients with an empowering tool that helps them take control over the prescription process.

The no-cost, equity-free program will last seven weeks and kicked off on October 1. While the program will continue to be virtual, gBETA's operations are located in Amegy Bank's Downtown Launchpad along with Impact Hub Houston and MassChallenge Texas.

"Over the past year, Central Houston has focused on establishing Downtown as a vibrant innovative center of gravity for technology and entrepreneurship in the northern node of the Houston Innovation Corridor," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston, a gBETA Houston sponsor, in the news release.

"The result has been recruiting nationally-acclaimed accelerator programs, such as gener8tor, to our city and creating Downtown Launchpad, an inclusive village that offers a framework of resources for these programs and the startups and entrepreneurs involved as they seamlessly navigate through the stages of startup production. We're thrilled that gener8tor is one of Downtown Launchpad's resident partners and look forward to the impact created by the startups in the fall cohort."

gBETA Houston's Virtual Pitch Night will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 5 pm. For more information and to RSVP, click here.

gBETA kicked off its 2020 fall accelerator virtually. Photo courtesy of gBETA

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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

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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.