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

You can now hop online and invest in this promising cell therapy startup. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

money moves

A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Celltex is looking into using stem cells to treat COVID-19, and the Houston biotech company just got the green light to go to trials. Photo courtesy of Celltex

Houston biotech company gets FDA greenlight to move forward with COVID-19 stem cell treatment

coronavirus cure?

A Houston-based biotech company announced last week that it has gotten the approval it was seeking from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to continue testing its COVID-19 treatment that uses stem cells.

Celltex has received approval from its Investigational New Drug application, or IND, to look into stem cells — specifically Autologous Adipose Tissue-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells, or AdMSCs — and their effect on COVID-19 patients.

"The FDA's approval of our IND is not only a critical milestone for Celltex, but also for everyone who has been affected by COVID-19," says David G. Eller, Celltex chairman and CEO. "I am optimistic that our findings will result in favorable outcomes that will improve lives today and for generations to come."

Celltex has been in the stem cell business for nearly a decade and has treated patients with debilitating diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Eller says he's been considering how Mesenchymal Stem Cells, or MSCs, could be used amid the pandemic.

"Throughout the entire pandemic, MSCs have shown promise for combatting symptoms and complications associated with COVID-19, and as the nation's leading commercial MSC banking and technology company, Celltex has the unique ability to transition these initial findings into a clinical trial," Eller says.

The FDA clearance will allow for a phase two trial "that will evaluate the safety and prophylactic efficacy of AdMSCs against COVID-19," according to the release. There will be 200 patients across multiple centers that will be involved in the placebo-controlled study.

Celltex offices out of the Galleria area and has laboratory operations of its wholly-owned Mexican subsidiary are located in Hospital Galenia in Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Last year, Celltex planned an expansion into Saudi Arabia and also has a presence in Europe.

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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.