Category Archives: Industry Innovators
After almost two decades of research at academic medical centers, Dr. John Frangioni realized that while academia was a rich environment for innovation, it was not an ideal setting for invention to be converted into commercial products that could tangibly help patients and doctors. He then founded Curadel in an effort to move his potentially life-changing technologies into the clinical setting.
The road has not been easy, as it rarely is for new startups. But Curadel is well on its way to success with its revolutionary FLARE® technology lighting the way.
Using FLARE® to Light the Way
FLARE®, which stands for Fluorescence Assisted Resection and Exploration, has the potential to empower surgeons with real-time critical information that could result in greatly improved outcomes for patients undergoing cancer surgery with curative intent.
“The system uses near-infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye but penetrates millimeters through blood and tissue,” explains Chief Chemist Mark Bordo. Bordo notes that Curadel is developing “special contrast agents that could be injected into the bloodstream to highlight various structures, such as tumors, blood vessels, nerves, lymph nodes, glands, etc. When realized, FLARE® imaging will allow one to simultaneously identify different structures, enabling surgeons to resect tumors while avoiding normal tissues, all in real time.”
Why is this so important? Cancer cells don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Instead, tumors often blend into their environment often making it difficult to discern malignant tissues from normal, healthy ones. FLARE® will help to eliminate the guesswork. In sharing Curadel’s near-term goals, Chief Operating Officer Saira Y. Valley points out that when developed for human use, “FLARE® technology will be able to affect every stakeholder in the healthcare spectrum. For insurance companies and hospitals, it could reduce the cost of care. For the patient and their family, it would provide emotional relief because they would know in real time the outcome of their surgery. For the surgeon, it could provide the expediency of seeing the tumor and removing it quickly, without having to dissect for long periods. Everyone would benefit from this kind of technology.”
Although FLARE® technology products have not yet been approved by the FDA, both the medical device and the imaging agent constituents have been successfully tested in both small and large animals.
Finding Cancer, Empowering Research
What do you do if you are the head of a new start-up company, with limited product development funds, but a new and exciting technology that would benefit greatly from independent evaluation in a wide array of applications? James Sherley, director of Asymmetrex, found himself facing just such a challenge.
Sherley founded Asymmetrex, LLC, a MassBio member company, in October 2013. The company was launched with a unique portfolio of patented technologies for stem cell medicine. Asymmetrex now faces a unique challenge in the commercial development of one of its most promising stem cell medicine technologies.
A Revolutionary Technology
Earlier this year, Asymmetrex published a scientific report on its latest specific biomarker for adult tissue stem cells. Called “H2A.Z asymmetry,” the new biomarker has sufficient specificity to provide, for the first time, a means to count adult tissue stem cells. These data have the potential to significantly improve the success rate of stem cell transplant and regenerative medicine therapies and also have many other important applications in drug development and tissue stem cell research.
The H2A.Z asymmetry biomarker is designed to be universal, capable of detecting ideally functioning stem cells in many different tissues of a variety of different mammalian species, including humans.
A New Approach
Asymmetrex’s commercialization plans would be accelerated by a more rapid evaluation of the new biomarker’s wide-ranging application.
As a strategy to achieve immediate evaluation in many different tissues, Asymmetrex launched a crowdsourcing campaign to invite stem cell biologists, bioengineers, stem cell transplant physicians, and regenerative medicine companies around the world to test H2A.Z asymmetry for identifying and counting their own tissue stem cells of interest.
Director Sherley states that, “Our crowdsourcing effort is a grand ideal experiment. Crowd evaluators may discover a valuable research and clinical tool that they can employ right away; and Asymmetrex may realize sooner an otherwise very difficult to achieve milestone towards beginning a new era of tissue stem cell counting.”
Over the next year, through varied social media outlets and conference presentations, Asymmetrex will encourage tissue stem cell investigators to use H2A.Z asymmetry and report their findings at research conferences and in peer-reviewed publications.
The company has set up a website (http://crowdsourcing.asymmetrex.com/) to provide a means for crowd evaluators to report unpublished findings. As such information accrues, Asymmetrex will report it in an anonymous aggregated format on the company website (http://asymmetrex.com).
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At one of MIT’s recent major career fairs, only 3% of the employers in attendance represented the life sciences. Surprising? Yes, considering that MIT is in the heart of Kendall Square, recently named the number one hub for life sciences in the world. It certainly shocked James W. Weis and Nathan Stebbins, PhD students at the prestigious institution and co-founders of the MIT Biotech Group.
There’s a lot of anxiousness towards careers [you hear statements like] ‘there’s no faculty jobs’ and ‘what’s everyone going to do’. James and I originally started digging around to understand what resources exist at MIT for students that want to get connected to the biotechnology industry and what avenues exist for students who want to be entrepreneurs in the lifesciences. We actually found that MIT students, surprisingly, have a small connection with the outside biotechnology world.” – Stebbins.
About 25% of PhD students at MIT are doing research directly involved in the life sciences and many more are doing tangential work. Weis and Stebbins recognized a need to close the gap between academia and industry at MIT, and decided to take the necessary steps to make it happen. After countless hours of brainstorming and meetings with high level executives from academia and industry, the empowered entrepreneurs launched the MIT Biotech Group in April of this year – with the full support and encouragement of MIT’s administration. Their hard work has paid off. Within a few days of the inaugural email invitation, over 200 students signed up to get a taste of the life sciences industry. The group currently has over 500 members comprised of undergrads, graduates, and PhD students. Read the rest of this entry