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InCube Labs Startup Fe3 Plans Iron-Delivering Patch For Anemia

Xconomy Texas — 

San Antonio — Mir Imran, the founder and CEO of InCube Labs, has more than 200 patents to his name and has created more than 20 companies through InCube, a healthcare-focused research and development business that invents new technology with the goal of spinning them into separate businesses.

Maybe, then, it’s not surprising that Imran says he can’t play favorites when it comes to his inventions, which have attracted investors such as Google Ventures and buyers like St. Jude Medical in St Paul, MN. Instead, he can just list the two businesses that most recently attracted multiple millions of dollars in funding.

Fe3 Medical, an InCube startup that was developed at the company’s facilities in San Antonio, raised $11 million of Series B funding this week for a patch it has developed that the company says can deliver iron into a patient’s bloodstream thanks to an electric current generated from the patch. The company is targeting people with anemia who react poorly to iron pills or liquid supplements, which can upset the gastrointestinal system and cause anything from constipation to diarrhea.

Fe3 plans to seek FDA approval for the patch, potentially as a combination medical device and therapeutic, as well as approval in Europe and other international markets, Imran says. About 50 percent of the 25 million patients in the U.S. with mild or moderate anemia suffer from some sort of side effect, he says.

“Our guiding principal here at InCube is to go after the most important problems that affect the quality of life of a lot of patients,” Imran says. “It’s hard for me to say which one is favorite because they all have technologies that could have such a profound impact on patients. … Fe3 Medical could have a profound impact on tens of millions of people worldwide.”

For example, Imran says that another business spun from InCube’s research, Rani Therapeutics, is developing a method of delivering biologic-based drugs, or therapeutic antibodies, to patients orally rather than through injections or infusions. The San Jose, CA-based company announced last month it closed a $70 million round of venture funding from investors including AstraZeneca, Virtus Inspire Ventures, Ping An Ventures. The company had already received investments from Novartis and Google Ventures, among others.

“We’re working on a platform to make the delivery painless for the patients,” Imran says. The company’s platform aims to be able to turn both existing, already-approved biologic drugs and drugs that are in development into an oral formulation. That’s part of the reason for the interest from Big Pharma companies like AstraZeneca and Novartis, Imran says, as well as MedImmune, which announced an agreement in January to test some of its drugs using Rani’s platform.

Imran founded InCube in San Jose in 1995 to create a home base for his prolific work as an inventor. In the time since, his work has brought him substantial acclaim. He was named as a fellow by the National Academy of Inventors in late 2015, and was named one of the top 50 medical device inventors of all time by industry periodical Qmed, only a few spots behind Robert Langer, the MIT Institute professor and biotech innovator.

The business has grown substantially in its own right, adding on a venture capital arm in the mid-2000s, which is currently raising a third fund, Imran says. (The venture arm, InCube Ventures, has invested in both Rani and Fe3.) In late 2010, InCube opened a San Antonio office after it brokered a deal with local leaders, who promised to invest around $10 million into the various businesses it would spin out, in part because of the jobs the company expected to create.

InCube now has six businesses it is incubating in San Antonio, with more research that it expects to soon convert into new businesses, according to Phil Morgan, who is the general manager of InCube’s San Antonio site and is also the president of Fe3.

“All of our companies are put together to really address a medical need for which we really understand the problem and how to solve it,” Morgan says, adding that he expects InCube to roll out a new company about once a year. “In San Antonio, diabetes is a big problem. We’ve been working on diabetes for probably about 10 years. We do have a lot of projects and innovative solutions.”

Before spinning out a company, InCube spends its resources identifying problems, testing solutions to them, and determining whether any solutions are commercially viable or not. Only about 30 percent to 40 percent of ideas actually become companies, he says.

InCube funds its work internally, partly using proceeds from the sales of previous companies, such as selling Spinal Modulation, the maker of a technology treating chronic pain, to St. Jude Medical. Imran says the deal will be worth about $500 million.

With companies that do spinout like Fe3, InCube uses venture funding. The Series B funding came from three Chinese investors, Jianmin Pharmaceuticals, HG Capital, and Ping An Ventures, which InCube expects to prove valuable if the company enters that market.

Fe3 announced a new CEO along with the financing, Mark Sieczkarek, who has successfully sold a few medtech businesses in the past, including Mountainview, CA-based Conceptus to Bayer for $1.1 billion in 2013.

Next up is working with the FDA on developing a plan for clinical trials, which Imran says is ongoing. He believes that the company’s patch, which would be placed on the patient’s skin once a week, will be easier than taking daily pills, while still delivering as much or more iron. The patch wouldn’t have the side effects present with current treatment, either, he says.

“We’re working with the FDA to figure out the design of the trial and how many patients and how long,” he says. “We need guidance from regulators.”