Technology Alliance Showcases Four New Companies in Biotech and Cleantech, and Revisits One Past Presenter
The Technology Alliance put on its fifth “Innovation Showcase” at the Rainier Square Conference Center earlier this week in Seattle, where a handful of up and coming local technology and life sciences companies presented their projects to a select group of entrepreneurs, businesspeople, academics, and potential investors. This is only the second time the press has been invited to attend the quarterly event, the first being at the last showcase that Greg covered back in April.
Although there wasn’t as much of a University of Washington presence as there has been in the past, the university clearly has a lot of interest in the event. Before the presentations began, Linden Rhoads, the UW vice provost who runs the Center for Commercialization, joked that she intentionally made sure that her colleague and OVP partner Rick LeFaivre would be double-booked at another event so that she could have the honor of giving the introductory remarks.
Three of the four presenting companies showcased developments in different varieties of biotechnology. The fourth company came out of an entirely different vein—cleantech—and the last presentation was really an update from a previous presenter in the mobile hardware development sector.
Although many of these companies are in the beginning stages, you’ll no doubt be hearing about some—if not all—of them in the near future. For now, here is a quick overview of the presenting companies and what jumped out to me the most:
1. Assay Dynamics (Seattle)
This company, founded in September 2009, but traces its roots back through six years of planning. Assay Dynamics aims to improve point-of-care wellness screening capabilities, according to founder and chief executive Kjell Nelson. Assay has developed diagnostic testing technology that will give physicians the ability to perform a number of regular tests and screenings, including blood glucose and cholesterol, on a single patented and disposable card.
The second part of the package is a device that’s capable of screening and running quantitative analysis and error checks on multiple tests simultaneously, bypassing time spent waiting on results while a test is outsourced to a lab. And while there are many diagnostic instruments already on the market for physicians looking to run in-house tests, according to Nelson, they are all designed to run only one type of test each, whereas Assay’s would consolidate multiple tests into one machine.
“Laboratory testing is a linchpin of medical practice today,” Nelson said. “[Assay's device] aims to improve the quality of primary care.”
Assay Dynamics currently has five patents on its technology and has received $4 million in funding. It plans to market the automated assay card and screening instrument to primary care physicians looking to expand their in-house laboratories and pharmacies interested in offering walk-in and emergency care. The company expects to finish development on its automated card in the next 18 months, followed by another 18 months for the industrial instrument design and an estimated six months for FDA approval, with hopes of getting the product on the market by 2013. Assay expects to generate $50 in revenue per test, totaling to an estimated $3.3 million in the first year and $42 million by 2016.
2. Kaleetan Pharmaceuticals (Seattle)
Kaleetan Pharmaceuticals is tackling one of the most ambitious goals in medicine today—finding a cure for cancer. Kaleetan was founded by some big names on the Seattle biotech scene, with expertise in immunology. The co-founders include Jeff Ledbetter and Martha Hayden-Ledbetter, the husband and wife scientific team that co-founded Trubion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TRBN); Alan Wahl, a veteran of Trubion and Seattle Genetics; and Cassian Yee, a scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Their vision is to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight tumors as if they were a virus. This approach has been in the news this year, as Seattle-based Dendreon won the first-ever FDA approval for a treatment designed to actively stimulate the immune system in such a way against tumors. But Kaleetan hopes to build on that success with an immune-booster that would be less complicated to administer to patients than the method used by Dendreon.
Dendreon’s technique requires that blood be drawn from an individual patient, a certain type of white blood cell gets separated out, which incubates with a protein marker found on cancer cells. That system “teaches” the immune system to recognize cancer, so that when the cells are re-infused into the patient, they know what to fight.
Kaleetan, however, aims to stimulate those specific white blood cells—dendritic cells—with an injectable protein drug that isn’t customized to the patient. This approach ought to drive “robust immunity capable of destroying cancer cells” specific to the type of cancer—not the patient—that can be easily manufactured and administered through injections, says Kaleetan co-founder Grant Risdon.
“Throughout our lives we’ve seen vaccines prevent many diseases, such as polio,” Risdon said. “It’s the goal of therapeutic vaccines to stimulate an immune response that you would see in other people.”
Kaleetan is in the process of getting preclinical validation on the vaccine, and hopes to have a pilot drug to test on dogs with cancer in the next 18 months.
3. Vitriosic (Seattle)
The only cleantech company represented at the showcase, Vitriosic, founded in August 2009, is developing electrochromic glass. This technology, also known as “smart glass,” is designed to allow windows to change rapidly from transparent to varying degrees of opaqueness through the application of an electrical charge. Though this technology can be harnessed for multiple purposes—car windows, skylights, residential homes, etc.—Vitriosic aims to first use it to significantly reduce the amount of energy and money—some $14 billion annually—that is used to cool commercial buildings.
Although smart glass is already available on the market, co-founder and chief executive Todd Ostrander says Vitriosic’s product is the only one in development that does not require constant power to work. Instead, the system uses an organic polymer technology, developed by UW College of Engineering professor Minoru Taya and licensed out to Vitriosic, which allows customers to change the state by applying a tiny amount of energy without any electric infrastructure requirements.
“Because of the small amount of power required to change the state, we can use solar power, and can store that power and transfer it wirelessly,” Ostrander said. “By doing this we can potentially change the heat gain for a commercial building by 28 percent,” amounting to an estimated $3.9 billion a year in energy cost savings.
Once installed, Ostrander says the glass could be managed centrally or by wireless remote, would eliminate the need for blinds or shades, and would have multiple color options. Vitriosic also plans to beat out competitors by making the product available for less than $50 a square-foot, hoping to keep its price just a few percentage points above conventional commercial glass on the market. Ostrander also added that the U.S. Department of Energy’s efforts to see new buildings use 50 percent less energy by 2015 than those built in 2005, and the availability of energy credits and rebates for those who make energy improvements to their homes and businesses, strengthens the market for smart glass.
The company is currently working with Cardinal Glass, a large glass manufacturer, to test the longevity and weather readiness of its smart glass, which has been successfully tested at more than 100,000 state changes so far. The company is looking to raise $100,000 to conduct testing through the third quarter, and hopes to raise another $500,000 to get it through production and to market after that.
When asked about the potential dangers of a building’s heat being stored inside its glass windows, Ostrander joked, “It’s a bad day when you see the side of a building blow out because the inside of the window has taken in so much heat that it literally explodes.”
4. MobiSante (Redmond)
In a cross between biotech and mobile, MobiSante presented a handheld ultrasound imaging system built into a smart phone that would allow health care providers to run ultrasounds for various primary care, obstetrics, emergency medicine, and vascular needs easily, remotely, and for much cheaper than a traditional cart-based imaging system.
The system, which connects an ultrasound imaging probe to existing smart phone hardware, would project high-quality, affordable images, according to CEO Sailesh Chutani. By getting those images on a smartphone, MobiSante also seeks to take advantage of other mobile capabilities, such as data archival, and medical record transfer. Chutani, a former senior director of mobile technologies at Microsoft, also added that the product, which is currently in beta testing, is not looking to replace larger and more comprehensive ultrasound machines. Instead, he said that MobiSante wants to bring the price down enough “to the point that it’s practically free,” and more readily available for those in markets that currently don’t have access to the technology, such as rural areas and army stations.
MobiSante estimates that the system will be priced at less than $5,000, which would make it the first commercial ultrasound system available at such a low cost. The company is currently looking to raise between $1-2 million in seed money, followed by another $4-5 million in Series A financing. Chutani expects that once the product hits the market, it will bring in between $50-95 million in the first five years.
“When people have a device that they can carry with them, and they don’t have to worry about how much it costs, I think we will reach a lot more customers than we can see today.”
5. Enravel (Seattle)
Enravel, which presented at the April Innovation Showcase, followed up the presentations with an update and product demo. The company, led by UW mechanical engineer Brian Schowengerdt, has developed a laser-based “pico projector” that could be built into mobile electronics like cell phones, digital cameras, and even eye glasses. The 1 mm x 9 mm projector—about the size of a grain of rice—uses “scanning fiber” technology to then scan an image from the device, and project an enlarged image back onto a larger surface, like a wall. The company, which has put most of its resources into developing the projection technology so far, plans to now turn its focus to streamlining the light source modulator to improve image quality.