UT at Austin Professors Present Early-Stage Pharmaceutical Startups

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By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News

The StARTup Studio put on by the Innovation Center at the University of Texas at Austin had a decidedly pharmaceutical focus during its January presentations.

Three professor-led startups presented a variety of ideas including a traumatic brain injury treatment drug, a peptide sequencing platform to combat bacteria and a new way to create antibiotics.

The StARTup Studio is a monthly series of invitation-only presentations put on by the Innovation Center at the Cockrell School of Engineering. UT Professor of Innovation Bob Metcalfe runs the center along with Louise Epstein, managing director and Steve Nichols, Advanced Manufacturing Center director. The series is sponsored by the Innovation Center, the UT Office of Technology Commercialization, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and WeWork Austin.

The first company to present, NuvoNuro makes a drug to be given within 24 hours of a traumatic brain injury to lessen the detrimental effects of the injury and lead to a speedier recovery.

UT Research Scientist Jim Sahn and Chemistry Professor Stephen Martin presented the early stage startup NuvoNuro, which has discovered a drug compound to treat brain injuries. The company is preparing to go into more extensive animal trials next.

The need exists for a new drug to treat traumatic brain injury, Sahn said. Traumatic brain injury is a major cause of disability and death. It affects more than 10 million people worldwide each year. In the U.S., 5.3 million people suffer lifelong disability because of traumatic brain injury. No new drugs have been developed to treat the injury in 20 years, Sahn said.

Football players and other sports professionals, the military, first responders, young children and males between the ages of 15 and 24 are at the highest risk, Sahn said.

Secondary brain injuries result within hours after the initial injury and the drug would intervene to mitigate that damage, Sahn said.

NuvoNuro’s drug compound has been shown to improve cognitive performance following a traumatic brain injury in mice and the drug is low on toxicity, Sahn said.

Next, UT Molecular Bioscience Professor Bryan Davies presented bDAT Therapeutics, a high throughput antimicrobrial screening technology. The problem is antimicrobial resistance causes 700,000 deaths annually and in 30 years, superbugs are expected to kill more people than cancer, Davies said.

And no new antibiotics have been developed in 50 years, Davies said.

bDAT’s solution is antimicrobial peptides, which are biologically occurring short chains of amino acid monomers linked by peptide bonds.

bDAT has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, Welch Foundation, Sanofi and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. It is looking at is looking at either licensing its technology or attracting outside investors to take it to market, Davies said.

The last presenter, Molecular Bioscience Professor Andy Ellington and Research Professor Greg Ippolito presented a new way to create antibiotics.

The company uses bioinformatics and gene sequencing to target single T-cells and B-cells of the immune system to kill diseased cells.

A company called AbVitro, based in Boston, and spun out of Harvard University, does similar work and Seattle-based Juno just acquired AbVitro this month for about $125 million.

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