Central Pennsylvania Innovators Receive Recognition and Support in the Form of Federal Funding; Funding Follows Seed Stage Investments from LSGPA
"The success these companies have had in attracting federal funding speaks foremost to the high quality of their research and development efforts," said Dr. Mel Billingsley, President and CEO of LSGPA. "But these grants also remind us that advancing healthcare and ensuring continued development of a robust life sciences industry are frequently collaborative efforts, with the highest returns realized when input is received from the government, academic, and business sectors alike."
“But these grants also remind us that advancing healthcare and ensuring continued development of a robust life sciences industry are frequently collaborative efforts, with the highest returns realized when input is received from the government, academic, and business sectors alike.”
Pennsylvania was among the first states to formalize a mechanism for actively fostering alliances between businesses and universities while deploying the patient early-stage capital so critical to life sciences start-ups. The result: the Life Sciences Greenhouses, which build upon regional strengths to accelerate commercialization of discoveries in the life sciences. LSGPA, in particular, takes advantage of the research base provided by Penn State University, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and Lehigh University, and builds upon existing regional strengths in bio-nanotechnology, medical devices, and rational drug delivery and design. Not surprisingly, the companies receiving the above-mentioned federal grants reflect these regional strengths.
Apogee Biotechnology Corporation
Apogee is a privately-held company based in Hershey, PA, that utilizes computational modeling and medicinal chemistry to identify new drugs for the treatment of chronic and life-threatening diseases.
The Phase I Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grants referenced above, titled Sphingosine Kinase Inhibitors as Anti-Arthritis Agents and Sphingosine Kinase-Targeted Inhibitors of Diabetic Retinopathy, bring the amount of SBIR funding received by the company to over $2.5 million. Sphingosine kinase (SK) is an enzyme that regulates a critical signaling pathway in cells," says company founder and CEO, Dr. Charles Smith. Because SK activity promotes cancer cell proliferation, Apogee has focused on identifying new inhibitors of this enzyme to be used as anticancer drugs. In a project funded by the National Cancer Institute of the NIH, the company designed and synthesized new inhibitors of sphingosine kinase. Importantly, these compounds can be administered orally, and have anticancer activity in animals. Dr. Smith notes that sphingosine kinase is also involved in other disease processes, suggesting that these compounds will also be useful for treating certain inflammatory diseases and diseases that involve excessive angiogenesis, or growth of blood vessels.
Millersville-based Illuminex Corporation was founded by Dr. Youssef Habib in 2003. Two of the three Phase I SBIR grants his company has received are focused on improvements in healthcare, while the third has applications for heat transfer. "This illustrates the potentially wide-ranging applications of nanowire sensors," explains Habib, who is exploring devising nanoscale sensors for everything from leukemia to prostate and ovarian cancer detection. The company has received $910,000 in SBIR grant funding since founding two years ago.
The solicitation titled Nanowire Optical Assay Probe, funded by he DOE Medical Sciences section, will involve work on an optical nanowire immunoassay that uses antibodies to probe for particular cancer markers. The grant titled Nanobiosensor was jointly awarded to Illuminex and Nufern Corporation (of East Granby, Connecticut). The two firms will work together to develop a medical diagnostics instrument that combines fiber-optic and nanowire technologies.
QuantumBio, headquartered in Harrisburg, PA with offices in State College, PA and San Diego, CA, will use the funding from their Phase I SBIR grant from the U.S. Army Research Office to develop a novel application for the company's quantum mechanics-based technology. Originally developed to aid the pharmaceutical industry with drug discovery efforts, the company's in silico (computer aided) tools are ideally suited to counter-bioterrorism efforts, where, in the case of a bioterrorist attack, the Department of Defense will require fast and accurate prediction methods to quickly determine viable treatment options. The project will be directed by Lance Westerhoff; the first phase is expected to be completed this fall.
LSGPA is a public/private joint venture that provides seed funding, business planning and development services, shared lab and equipment opportunities, gap funding for new startups, patent protection funding, relocation assistance, and workforce development. For more information, please visit www.lsgpa.com.