Allergist, Vaccine Researchers Nothing to Sneeze At, UCD Judges Say
A startup that’s trying to promote a better way to treat allergy patients beat out a team of biotech researchers working on a way to protect vaccines from heat to take home the top prize Tuesday at the University of Colorado-Denver’s annual business plan competition.
Allergy Solutions won the $10,000 prize for its proposal to change the way doctors treat patients with allergies while opening up new revenue streams for doctors. Neil Smith, a physician assistant who runs the Allergy Solutions clinic in Longmont, led the team. Daryl Winn and Adam Burrack were members.
Allergy Solutions would rely on sublingual allergy drops patients would take daily in their own homes. The benefit to allergy sufferers is that using drops removes the need for regular trips to the doctor for allergy shots. The protocol for creating the drops already is well developed, but the potential of the new treatment method has yet to be realized.
“It’s a therapy whose time has come,” Smith said.
Smith’s main innovation is on the business side. Allergy Solutions would offer turnkey services for doctors who want to offer allergy treatment without changing how their current practice operates. Smith said that would allow family practice doctors, pediatricians, and internists who currently make referrals to open up a new revenue stream for their practices.
The market for allergy treatment already exists, as do doctors who might be interested in Allergy Solutions’ services. The company could scale rapidly, possibly reaching $30 million in revenue within five years.
Nanoly Bioscience took home $5,000 for finishing second. The prize is one of several the student-led biotech startup has won over the past 18 months. In 2012, Nanoly finished third and won $10,000 at the Dell Social Innovation Challenge after winning the $50,000 first place prize at the Duke University Startup Challenge. The company also was a Mass Challenge finalist.
Nanoly is trying to create a better way of preserving vaccines, specifically those that must be refrigerated. Many vaccines must be stored in a narrow temperature range, often between 35 and 45 degrees, because they lose their effectiveness if they are exposed to temperatures outside that range.
The “cold chain” problem obviously makes distributing and preserving vaccines to remote areas with little infrastructure a problem, but doctors in the U.S. and developed world also must follow strict procedures to keep the vaccines in the temperature range.
Nanoly’s goal is to develop a nanoparticle polymer and buffer agent that can be blended safely with protein-based vaccines that would preserve them when they are exposed to heat and, ideally, remove the need for refrigeration.
Co-founder Mark Tibbitt said the team is working on refining its polymer and proving it can stabilize the proteins used in vaccines.
“We’re fairly far into development, but there’s always more we want to show. We have a high bar to cross before we go to investors,” Tibbitt said.
Nanoly’s team is scattered across the country, and its members have degrees or fellowships at many of the country’s top research universities, including MIT, Duke, Cal Berkeley, and Cornell. The Colorado connection is through CU-Boulder and the lab of Kristi Anseth at the university’s BioFrontier Institute.
Nanoly’s research currently is pre-revenue and has one full-time employee, CEO Peter Matheu. Matheu said the company hopes to be ready for an angel round within the next year or so. Balaji Sridhar, a student in CU’s MD/PhD program, was the third member.
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