Early Stage Life Sciences Pitches—12 Firms Looking for Funding

Whether it’s to learn about new approaches to cancer treatment, better ways to harvest stem cells, or cutting edge arthritis and anxiety drugs, I always have a good time at events like yesterday’s Early Stage Life Sciences Conference. That’s because you meet people with fascinating ideas and technologies they think will change the world (and make themselves rich in the process, which is fair). Yesterday, conference attendees had a chance to hear from a dozen such folks, all representing hopeful biotech and life sciences companies looking for funding. Which ones will be the game-changers, I don’t know. But you gotta figure at least one will move on to bigger and better things, and getting to know them early can be a lot of fun, whether you’re a writer or an investor.

The afternoon conference, held at Harvard Medical School in Boston’s Longwood area, was organized by the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center. After an opening panel looking at the emerging role of patients and philanthropic organizations in moving medical technologies into the marketplace, there were two sessions of company pitches. Each of the 12 startups (or hopeful startups) looking for funding was allowed about 10 minutes to give an overview of its businesses—technology, approach, core staff, financial needs, market opportunity, and more. No questions were taken, but all the firms had posters in the lobby and were on hand to answer more questions. More than 150 people attended, among them many angel investors, venture capitalists, and corporate investors.

MTTC director Abigail Barrow, an Xconomist, told me there were some core criteria for choosing the presenting firms: they had to be pre-venture funding, have interesting and investment-worthy businesses with some proof of concept, and be connected in some way to a Massachusetts research institution.

One firm I found especially intriguing was Progenestem, which is developing a more efficient way to harvest adult stem cells from bone marrow and other sites in the body so that they can be injected back into patients to repair tissue and treat chronic diseases. President Stephen Cannon told attendees that he only needed $3 million to automate manufacturing and production of the company’s technology and bring it to market.

I was also intrigued by SkelScan, of Cambridge, MA. It is working on a 3D magnetic resonance imaging technology to better diagnose and monitor bone diseases such as osteoporosis. The company was founded by three Harvard Med School scientists who invented the core technology. Chief scientific advisor Jerome Ackerman said not only would the technology be far more accurate than current 2D dual energy x-ray absorptiometry technology, he thought SkelScan could make it cheaply enough to be affordable by small medical practices.

There were plenty of other interesting pitches, and a few companies I didn’t even get to see. Here’s the list of all of them, in alphabetical order, including the core contact and a snippet of each firm’s description from the conference program:

Advanced Kinase Diagnostic
Janusz Sowadski, founder and CEO

“Our company aims to improve the clinical effectiveness of kinase inhibitors in stratified cancer patient populations. We speed up the process and lower the risk of all anti-kinase drug developers in clinical trials through genetic stratification of cancer patients.”

Avaxia Biologics
Barbara Fox, CEO

“Avaxia Biologics is developing an oral antibody product for mucositis, the painful lesions of the mouth and gastrointestinal (GI) tract that form during cancer chemotherapy and radiation therapy.”

Boston University product (unnamed)
Theodore Morse, professor

“The product would be a detector element that could be retrofitted to existing X-ray technology…There is an enormous market for improved medical imaging, and we would first concentrate on applications for X-ray screening for breast cancer.”

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Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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