Money moves

Digital health startup based in Houston closes $5.8 million round

Vivante Health, which uses technology and at-home testing to help users treat chronic digestive health issues, has raised $5.8 million. Getty Images

A Houston health technology startup that uses digital solutions and on-demand support to help its users with digestive health has closed a Series A round of funding.

Vivante Health raised $5.8 million in a series A1 round, according to a news release. The round was led by California-based Lifeforce Capital and Athens, Greece-based Big Pi Ventures. Additionally, NFP Ventures, FCA Venture Partners, and Longmont Capital contributed to the round.

"We knew we were onto something when the market responded so positively," says Dr. Kimon Angelides, Vivante Health founder and CEO, in the release, "but support from esteemed, experienced and successful firms like Lifeforce and Big Pi, and the continued strong support from our initial investor partners, give us a very encouraging boost of confidence as we carry out our vision and further develop the GIThrive platform."

With the fresh funds, Vivante will continue to develop its GI health platform, GIThrive. The digital tool has an at-home microbiome test kit for users, as well as a breath tester that monitors food sensitivities. GIThrive also connects users to on-demand support from nutritionists and experts on the GIThrive app.

The startup's Houston headquarters is based out of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center, JLabs@TMC, but has offices in Nashville, Chicago, and Athens. Angelides, who honors his Greek heritage by spending a fair about of time in Greece, says in the release how important the Big Pi investment is for him.

"This partnership with Big Pi, a tech-based investment firm who's driven by the desire to support Greek talent, makes perfect sense. What's more, we have partnered with a team who themselves have been very successful entrepreneurs," says Angelides in the release.

Angelides, who has founded three other health tech companies, impressed Big Pi with his entrepreneurial track record and nationwide team

"This is one of those rare investments where the financial upside goes hand in hand with the prospect of radically improving the lives of millions of people across the globe," says Marco Veremis, investment partner with Big Pi, in the release.

Lifeforce Capital has a portfolio of software startups, including Aspire, Cricket Health, Notable Labs, One Medical, and Second Genome, per the news release, and the VC firm is excited for their new addition.

"We were immediately struck by Kim's entrepreneurial passion and big vision," says Sander Duncan, general partner with Lifeforce Capital, in the release. "We are thrilled to work with the Vivante team to build the first platform tackling digestive disease for millions of suffering patients."

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Building Houston

 
 

This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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