The TMC has announced its latest Biobridge with Ireland and a new biodesign program with Australia. Photo courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center announced two new partnerships with international entities recently — both will bring innovative opportunities to the Houston area.

Enterprise Ireland, the country's trade and innovation agency, has entered into a strategic agreement with TMC to create the TMC's fourth biobridge. The new partnership will create gateway for Irish innovators to collaborate with the TMC to solve global health challenges.

“The breakthrough technology and entrepreneurship that is coming out of Ireland is truly impressive, and the TMC team is thrilled to be in Ireland today to solidify our partnership,” says William McKeon, president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center, in a news release. “The past two years has shown the importance of collaboration at a global scale, and we are eager to start our work with Enterprise Ireland’s team to further global innovation and research.”

Joining similar partnerships the TMC has with Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Australia, the new Irish Biobridge will focus on advancing health and life science through commercialization, innovation, and research — including identifying opportunities for clinical research and clinical trial activities, according to the release.

“The size, scale and reputation of Texas Medical Center brings new opportunities for Irish companies to innovate and scale and enter the US market,” says Leo Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, in a statement. “I am delighted to officially launch this partnership with TMC. Enterprise Ireland places a strong focus on driving innovation in the medtech industry and facilitating successful partnerships between Irish companies and influential global healthcare systems.”

Galway, Ireland-based LifeLet Medical, which is developing a novel biomimetic leaflet material for heart valve replacements, is part of TMC’s Accelerator program and is supported by Enterprise Ireland. Two other cohort companies — InVera Medical and Aurigen Medical — have been awarded funding under Irish government’s Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund administered by Enterprise Ireland.

Also made official today is a new partnership between TMC Biodesign and Biodesign Australia, an organization led by The University of Western Australia that allows Biodesign collaboration across Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane. Australia has collaborated closely with the TMC since the country established its Biobridge in 2018. The two programs' founders and entrepreneurs will be provided with access to talent, clinical trial activity, expanded funding opportunities and market access, according to a news release.

“The launch of the Australian BioBridge in 2018 created a unique opportunity for the exchange of ideas, research and investment to advance medical breakthroughs both at Texas Medical Center and in Australia,” McKeon says in the release. “This expanded relationship with Biodesign Australia offers global opportunities for a new group of healthcare leaders, and we are excited to work collaboratively to provide a platform for innovation and commercialization.”

TMC Biodesign, which launched in 2015, helps connect health tech innovators and founders with mentors, business leaders, and technical expertise to take life-saving technologies to scale. The two programs have trained hundreds of health tech innovators.

“Biodesign Australia is thrilled to partner with Texas Medical Center in our shared goal of furthering healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Professor Kevin Pfleger, director Biomedical Innovation at The University of Western Australia, in the release. “By uniting the programming, talent and expertise found at Biodesign Australia and TMC, we are creating a dynamic ecosystem that will help to shape the future of healthcare.”

The TMC | Australia Biobridge has co-designed the Healthcare Activator — a program that allows Australian Digital Health and Medical Device companies to tap into Texas Medical Center Innovation programs and partners. Applications are now open for the inaugural cohort launched.

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Former Medtronic exec takes the helm of Houston med device startup

mover and shaker

A Houston-based preclinical artificial heart device company has a new head honcho as it grows its team and further develops its technology.

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. He replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

“BiVACOR led an extensive CEO search, and Tom was the clear choice given his experience, background, leadership style, and exceptional track record,” says Timms in a news release. “Tom has the skillset and credibility to guide BiVACOR through its next chapter of transformation and advancement as we undertake the next stage of clinical activities leading up to First in Human early feasibility studies.”

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.”

Timms will take over BiVACOR's technical team working on the Total Artificial Heart system as CTO. The device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

The medical device company, which has operations in Houston and Australia, recently announced the addition of eight new employees doubling their team. The growth comes following its series B raise last year.

“It is a testament to the great progress the team has made and to the importance of the unmet clinical need addressed by the Total artificial Heart technology," Timms says on the appointment of Vassiliades. "We look forward to Tom’s leadership as BiVACOR navigates the path to commercialization.”

Enrique Gomez joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Houston as an oncology innovation hub. Photo via TMC.edu

How Houston is emerging as a leader for oncology innovation, according to this expert

Houston innovators podcast episode 114

Houston is currently establishing itself as a hub for health care innovation — and Enrique Gomez should know. He's worked in the field of biopharmaceuticals across the continent.

As entrepreneur in residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation's Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, he works with early stage startups and researchers. However, for decades he's worked in a much later stage of drug development, holding leadership positions at Takada in Latin America and Shire in Boston.

"Texas is very well recognized for cancer therapeutics," Gomez says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's a lot of research going on. These researchers are looking at every angle — every possible strategy to tackle cancer."

At ACT, Gomez connects the startups or instigators with the resources they need to get their life-saving solutions to market. With cancer, there's not one thing that's going to work. There have to be options for treating cancer.

"Cancer is very heterogeneous. Not one strategy will be the single silver bullet to overcome the disease," Gomez says. "We are talking about personalized medicine. Every person is different and every cancer in every patient is different. It will require a number of approaches to overcome the health situation."

Thankfully, through TMC's ACT and the numerous research institutions working on the future of oncology, Houston's a great spot to move that needle.

"Houston is a place where everyone looks at when it comes to novel research and approaches to treating cancer," Gomez says. "The landscape here is going to be accelerated because we see much more collaboration between the founding institutions — and that's a very important element of growth. Houston has no comparison to any other place in terms of what's going on here and the level and quality of research."

He shares more on how COVID-19 has affected drug development and research — as well as what's next for his own career — on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

This health tech company has made some significant changes in order to keep up with its growth. Photo via Getty Images

Houston data solutions startup rebrands, expands to support neuroscience research

startup soars

With a new CEO and chief operating officer aboard, Houston-based DataJoint is thinking small in order to go big.

Looking ahead to 2022, DataJoint aims to enable hundreds of smaller projects rather than a handful of mega-projects, CEO Dimitri Yatsenko says. DataJoint develops data management software that empowers collaboration in the neuroscience and artificial intelligence sectors.

"Our strategy is to take the lessons that we have learned over the past four years working with major projects with multi-institutional consortia," Yatsenko says, "and translate them into a platform that thousands of labs can use efficiently to accelerate their research and make it more open and rigorous."

Ahead of that shift, the startup has undergone some significant changes, including two moves in the C-suite.

Yatsenko became CEO in February after stints as vice president of R&D and as president. He co-founded the company as Vathes LLC in 2016. Yatsenko succeeded co-founder Edgar Walker, who had been CEO since May 2020 and was vice president of engineering before that.

In tandem with Yatsenko's ascent to CEO, the company brought aboard Jason Kirkpatrick as COO. Kirkpatrick previously was chief financial officer of Houston-based Darcy Partners, an energy industry advisory firm; chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Houston-based Solid Systems CAD Services (SSCS), an IT services company; and senior vice president of finance and general manager of operations at Houston-based SmartVault Corp., a cloud-based document management company.

"Most of our team are scientists and engineers. Recruiting an experienced business leader was a timely step for us, and Jason's vast leadership experience in the software industry and recurring revenue models added a new dimension to our team," Yatsenko says.

Other recent changes include:

  • Converting from an LLC structure to a C corporation structure to enable founders, employees, and future investors to be granted shares of the company's stock.
  • Shortening the business' name to DataJoint from DataJoint Neuro and recently launching its rebranded website.
  • Moving the company's office from the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute (TMCx) to the Galleria area. The new space will make room for more employees. Yatsenko says the 12-employee startup plans to increase its headcount to 15 to 20 by the end of this year.

Over the past five years, the company's customer base has expanded to include neuroscience institutions such as Princeton University's Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Columbia University's Zuckerman Institute for Brain Science, as well as University College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. DataJoint's growth has been fueled in large part by grants from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The work we are tackling has our team truly excited about the future, particularly the capabilities being offered to the neuroscience community to understand how the brain forms perceptions and generates behavior," Yatsenko says.

After a recent raise, this Houston biotech company is headed to first-in-human clinical trials. Photo via stellanovatx.com

JLABS-based cancer therapies company closes $15.5M series A led by Houston bioventure

fresh funds

Houston-based Stellanova Therapeutics closed a $15.5 million series A financing this month, which will advance the company's first-in-human clinical trials for oncology and help build out its team.

Stellanova is a resident company at Johnson & Johnson's biotech incubator in the TMC (JLABS @ TMC) and is one of four entities that make up cancer and disease biotech company Sporos Bioventures, which officially launched last month after closing a $38.1 million series A of its own.

Stellanova is focused on advancing therapies for cancers that are resistant to current treatments, like chemotherapy and immune therapies. According to a release, it has seen unprecedented anti-tumor activity in preclinical models of pancreas and triple negative breast cancer through the use of its lead antibody, which targets DKK3, a factor secreted by cancer-associated fibroblasts that spur tumors.

The company was founded based on research out of Dr. Rosa Hwang's lab at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"We are thrilled to bring Stellanova into the Sporos group of companies. Stellanova means 'new star,' and it is clear the Stellanova team embraces this namesake with their entirely new approach to treating cancer," Harold Levy, Stellanova and Sporos founder and board member said in the statement. "We have been impressed by Stellanova's accomplishments and look forward to being involved in the advancement of the company's platform, one that we believe has the potential to directly combat the most devastating of cancers."

In conjunction with the financing, Stellanova also announced that it has named JLABS @ TMC founding team member Emmanuelle Schuler as the company's inaugural CEO.

Stellanova joins Sporos's Tvardi Therapeutics as it moves toward clinical trials. Tvardi, named a "most promising" by BioHouston and the Rice Alliance in December, is in Phase 1 clinical trial of its STAT3 oral inhibitor for treatment of cancer, inflammation and fibrosis.

Asylia Therapeutics and Nirogy Therapeutics were also founding entities of Sporos. The companies are in the proof of concept and discovery phases and focus on cancer, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and inflammatory diseases.

Now is Houston's chance to create a modern economic cluster around health information and knowledge exchange. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Expert: Houston has a role to play at the dawn of health care consumerization

Guest column

For the most part, Houstonians were either born here or came here in pursuit of economic opportunity — a job of some sort that brought us to Houston, either directly or indirectly. Economic opportunity is part of the DNA of this city. The breadth of opportunities our city affords people from all over our country and all over our world are seemingly endless.

Houston's growth in the 20th century was fueled by large, strategic, capital investments in our region's infrastructure. Railroads, Hobby and Bush airports, the Port of Houston, the Texas Medical Center, NASA's Johnson Space Center, the Astrodome, and our surrounding petrochemical facilities have all been enormous economic drivers of investment, jobs, and prosperity for our region.

We are all familiar with the names of our early city visionaries and leaders. Were it not for their vision and leadership, Houston would still be a backwater town on the bayou, 50 miles inland from the closest seaport. Many of these leaders of early Houston had both a legitimate self-interest and a sense of civic virtue that inspired them to give back to a community that nurtured their success. They strongly believed in building a better Houston both for themselves and for succeeding generations with a can-do community spirit. Much of their success in developing Houston into the international city of today was a result of employing innovative mechanisms for matching private and public funding.

Today, the Texas Medical Center located in Houston is comprised of over 50 hospitals, medical schools, and other institutions that are all dedicated to public health. The TMC itself has an intertwined and symbiotic relationship with Houston and is a case study in how public and private institutions can work together to create such a unique medical complex that has benefited so many — and will benefit so many more in the future.

The good news is that today most institutions and physicians have electronic medical records. The bad news is that there is still a problem sending a patient's data across the street to a different health care provider electronically. This problem is called a lack of "interoperability" of health records, and this remains an unsolved problem nationally.

Making the data available to enable access to the right information at the right time to deliver the right care, is a challenge for every health care community in the country. That unresolved national problem can be Houston's opportunity to offer solutions and to leverage one of its largest industries.

We can transform health care delivery by enabling access to comprehensive electronic patient information when and where needed. There is now a strong consensus that new health information and communication technologies have a critical role to play in building a twenty-first century health care system that is safe, effective, patient-centric and equitable.

Most consumers today carry a powerful computer in their pocket called a smartphone. These consumers, also known as patients, are the most underutilized member of the health care delivery team and the only constant factor in the delivery of care. Moreover, the patient should care most about effective delivery of care and outcome. Notably, the added cost to have the patient involved is essentially zero in relation to the cost of delivery so patients would get better care at less cost.

We grew up thinking that doctor knows best, but that was until Dr. Google showed up able to make virtual house calls, whenever, and on demand. How many industries have we witnessed that were disrupted by the Internet? All indications are that this transformation will increase is size, scope and speed and is set to disrupt the largest industry in the largest economy in the world. We are at the dawn of the consumerization of health care.

Because of the enormous social challenges, there is currently no community in the United States that is an economic cluster for health information technology and health information exchange. Houston has the resources to become that community and create a health care hi-tech economic cluster. This suggestion is no more bold than a proposal to dig the Ship Channel 50 miles, or creating the first domed stadium in the world, or landing a man on the surface of the moon and returning him safely to Earth.

Now is Houston's chance to create a modern economic cluster around health information and knowledge exchange. If we are successful, Houston can then not only legitimately claim to be the home of the largest medical center in the world, but also the best.

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Manfred Sternberg of Manfred Sternberg & Assoc. PC Attorneys at Law has practiced consumer and commercial law for over 30 years.

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7+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events in July

where to be

Houstonians are transitioning into a new summer month, and the city's business community is mixing in networking and conference events with family vacations and time off. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for July when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

July 10 — Have a Nice Day Market at the Ion

Stop by for a one-of-a-kind vendor market - #HaveANiceDayHTX - taking place at the Ion, Houston's newest urban district and collaborative space that is designed to provide the city a place where entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities can come together. Free to attend and free parking onsite.

Have a Nice Day is a creative collective with a goal of celebrating BIPOC makers, creators, and causes.

The event is Sunday, July 10, 4 to 8 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 12 — One Houston Together Webinar Series

In the first installment of the Partnership's One Houston Together webinar series, we will discuss supplier diversity an often underutilized resource for business. What is it and why is it important? How can supplier diversity have long-term impact on your business, help strengthen your supply chain, and make a positive community impact?

The event is Tuesday, July 12, noon to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 14 — Investor Speaker Series: Both Sides of the Coin

In the next installment of Greentown Labs' Investor Speaker Series, sit down with two Greentown founders and their investors as they talk about their experiences working together before, during, and after an equity investment was made in the company. Attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important relationships in a startup’s journey and what best practices both founders and investors can follow to keep things moving smoothly.

The event is Thursday, July 14, 1 to 2:30 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 15 — SBA Funding Fair

Mark Winchester, the Deputy District Director for the Houston District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, will give a short intro of the programs the mentors will discuss. There will be three government guaranteed loan mentors and two to three mentors co-mentoring with remote SBIR experts.

The event is Friday, July 15, 10:30 am to 1 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

July 16 — Bots and Bytes: Family STEAM Day

Join the Ion for a hands-on learning experience to learn about tech and robotics and gain insight into the professional skills and concepts needed to excel in a robotics or tech career. This event will be tailored for 9-14-year-olds for a fun STEM experience.

The event is Saturday, July 16, 10 am to 1 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 19 — How to Start a Startup

You have an idea...now what? Before you start looking for funding, it's important to make sure that your idea is both viable and valuable -- if it doesn't have a sound model and a market willing to pay for it, investors won't be interested anyway.

The event is Tuesday, July 19, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 20 — Perfecting Your Pitch

Join the Ion for their series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is Wednesday, July 20, 5:30 to 6:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 21 — Transition On Tap: Investor Readiness with Vinson & Elkins LLP

Attorneys from Greentown Labs’ Gigawatt Partner Vinson & Elkins LLP, a leading fund- and company-side advisor for clean energy financing, will present an overview of legal considerations in cleantech investing, geared especially toward early-stage companies and investors. The presentation will cover the types of investors and deals in the cleantech space and also provide background on negotiating valuation, term sheets, and preparing for diligence.

The event is Thursday, July 21, 5 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

July 28 — The Cannon Community 2nd Annual Town Hall Event

Partner of The Cannon, Baker Tilly, has played an integral part in the success of Cannon member companies. Join the Cannon community for The Cannon's 5-year anniversary celebration!

The event is Thursday, July 28, 4 to 7 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

Texas-based dating app sponsors 50 female athletes to honor 50 years of Title IX

teaming up

Bumble is causing a buzz once again, this time for collegiate women athletes. Founded by recent Texas Business Hall of Fame inductee Whitney Wolfe Herd, the Austin-based and female-first dating and social networking app this week announced a new sponsorship for 50 collegiate women athletes with NIL (name, image, and likeness) deals in honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Established in 1972, the federal law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program or activity that receives federal money. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, the number of women in collegiate athletics has increased significantly since Title IX, from 15 percent to 44 percent.

That said, equity continues to lag in many ways, specifically for BIPOC women who make up only 14 percent of college athletes. The findings also share that men have approximately 60,000 more collegiate sports opportunities than women, despite the fact that women make up a larger portion of the collegiate population.

With this in mind, Bumble’s new sponsorship seeks to support “a wealth of overlooked women athletes around the country,” according to the beehive’s official 50for50 program page.

“We're embarking on a yearlong sponsorship of 50 remarkable women, with equal pay amounts across all 50 NIL (name, image, and likeness) contracts,” says the website. “The inaugural class of athletes are a small representation of the talented women around the country who diligently — and often without recognition — put in the work on a daily basis.”

To celebrate the launch of the program, Bumble partnered with motion graphic artist Marlene “Motion Mami” Marmolejos to create a custom video and digital trading cards that each athlete will post on their personal social media announcing their sponsorship.

“These sponsorships are an exciting step in empowering and spotlighting a diverse range of some of the most remarkable collegiate women athletes from across the country. Athletes who work just as hard as their male counterparts, and should be seen and heard,” says Christina Hardy, Bumble’s director of talent and influencer, in a separate release. “In honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we are so proud to stand alongside these women and are looking forward to celebrating their many achievements throughout the year.”

“Partnering with Bumble and announcing this campaign on the anniversary of Title IX is very special,” said Alexis Ellis, a track and field athlete. “I am grateful for the progress that has been made for women in sports, and am proud to be part of Bumble’s ’50for50’ to help continue moving the needle and striving for more. I look forward to standing alongside so many incredible athletes for this campaign throughout the year.”

“I am so grateful to team up with Bumble and stand alongside these incredible athletes on this monumental anniversary,” said Haleigh Bryant a gymnast. “Many women continue to be overlooked in the world of sports, and I am excited to be part of something that celebrates, and shines a light on, the hard work, tenacity, and accomplishments of so many great athletes.”

Last year, the NCAA announced an interim policy that all current and incoming student athletes could profit off their name, image, and likeness, according to the law of the state where the school is located, for the first time in collegiate history.

The 50for50 initiative adds to Bumble’s previous multi-year investments in sports. In 2019, Bumble also launched a multi-year partnership with global esports organization Gen.G to create Team Bumble, the all-women professional esports team.

To see the 50for50 athletes, visit the official landing page.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.