By JONATHAN GUTIERREZ
Reporter for Silicon Hills News
San Antonio has fostered innovative medical practices for decades. In June 2010, InCube Labs announced its plan to open a branch facility in San Antonio. InCube Labs originated in Silicon Valley and saw San Antonio as an attractive location to establish a branch.
“We could attract people here,” said Mir Imran, InCube Labs’ chairman and CEO. “One of the challenges for California is the cost of living is so high. It’s very hard to attract people from outside the state. We found in San Antonio it’s such a beautiful city to live in, and the cost of living is very low and manageable. From a family standpoint, there are also a number of attractions.”
InCube Labs is a multi-disciplinary research center for medical practices in therapeutic areas, drug delivery, and medical devices. Imran has created 20 companies with InCube in the past 25 years, and he plans to help establish more.
Phillip Morgan, Ph.D, vice president for InCube Labs in Texas, said InCube wants to make a major difference in areas of unmet clinical needs for patients.
“The way we approach it, is we try and understand the problem and we view technology agnostically,” Morgan said. “The process we use is if you really understand the problem, then the solution will come out of the problem.”
When InCube identifies a medical area it can improve, it begins the process of developing new approaches such as targeted drug delivery or interventional devices to solve clinical problems.
InCube’s research focuses on innovative solutions from basic research through pre-clinical development to clinical trials. The solutions it is developing include a unique mix of traditional device technologies such as electronics, software, mechanical engineering and material science, as well as pharmaceuticals, protein chemistry and cell biology.
When InCube Labs branched into Texas, the state invested $9.2 million from its Texas Emerging Technology fund into a trio of InCube’s spin-off companies.
The three companies – Corhythm Inc., Fe3 Medical Inc., and Neurolink Inc. – received this money to assist in the development and commercialization of their respective products.
Corhythm focuses on developing devices to detect atrial fibrillation and chronic heart failure, Fe3 Medical develops drug delivery technology to aid people with iron-deficiency anemia, and Neurolink develops an implantable device that predicts seizures and treats the underlying disease through intracranial drug delivery.
Morgan said it’s great for InCube Texas to be based in a place where there is a lot of support.
“One of the major factors in us coming to San Antonio is that there was a lot of support within the community ranging from the mayor, Julian Castro, and the city manager, Sheryl Sculley,” he said. “Both of them made trips to San Jose where InCube is based, and persuaded us to come to San Antonio.”
In addition to the city council support InCube has received, local universities have also committed to helping grow the life sciences sector in the city.
“If you look historically at where incubators are located, they’re nearly always located near academic institutions,” Morgan said. “I think it’s a major advantage being so close to the Health Sciences Center, UTSA and some of the other colleges around. They’ve been instrumental in helping us progress.”
In terms of investing in InCube either directly or indirectly, the city of San Antonio, the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio, USAA, and UTSA have all made significant contributions for the development of InCube’s companies, Morgan said.
InCube Ventures, one of InCube’s venture arms, is a specialized fund focusing on breakthrough innovations in medicine.
Just like InCube Labs, its venture arm aims to grow and nurture companies with potential to dramatically improve patient lives.
Imran said the next move for InCube Texas is to expand its operations to include manufacturing.
“We also run a manufacturing company in California,” he said. “We will bring a branch of that to (San Antonio). We’d like to get to the point where we’re establishing two companies a year. But, it requires a lot of infrastructure to support that many companies.”
One thing missing in San Antonio is the lack of significant venture capital, Imran said.
“The challenge has nothing to do with San Antonio,” he said. “Since the 2008 crash, the recovery has been slow. What that does to (startup companies) is it impacts the availability of equity dollars from other sources of venture capital. We’re hoping the companies we are building will attract new investors to come and take a serious look at San Antonio.”