Checking in with School of Medicine Start-Ups

By Carla Jean Whitley



Left: Ho-Wook Jun and Brigitta Brott of Endomimetics. Right: David Graves, Kevin Harris, and Katri Selander of Blondin Biosciences

When the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama announced the 2012 finalists for its Alabama Launchpad competition, two companies born in the School of Medicine had made the cut. And though neither took home the prize of $100,000 in seed funding, UAB’s researchers-turned-entrepreneurs say that the program offered valuable advice and insight into creating a business plan and finding investors for their young start-ups. Now, both companies seek funding that will allow them to test their medical solutions and bring them to market.

Blondin Biosciences: As medicine has progressed, so have cancer drugs, offering multiple treatment options for most cancers. “But nobody knows whether they will work for a certain patient,” explains Katri Selander, M.D., Ph.D., a UAB assistant professor of hematology and oncology. Blondin Biosciences, which Selander founded alongside her husband, UAB hematologist-oncologist Kevin Harris, M.D., and UAB Department of Chemistry Chair David Graves, Ph.D., may have a solution. The group has developed a blood test that, based on the release of a DNA structure into the blood, can determine whether chemotherapy is effective within just a few days. “Our test saves time, risk to the patient, and money, so it’s a win-win-win situation,” Selander says.

The test’s uses aren’t limited to cancer treatment, either. It may also gauge treatment effectiveness for neurological degenerative diseases and trauma, and pharmaceutical companies could use it in product development.

Foundation for Success

While each UAB discovery follows its own technology transfer path, all roads eventually lead to the UAB Research Foundation (UABRF). A nonprofit corporation created in 1987, the office identifies, assesses, and markets commercially viable technology invented at UAB and oversees the protection of intellectual property rights for the university, which includes filing patents in the United States and overseas. The UABRF also negotiates and oversees research, option, and licensing agreements for UAB.

UABRF Milestones:
• Managed more than 2,160 invention disclosures
• Received more than 640 United States patents
• Negotiated more than $29 million in research agreements
• Arranged more than 430 option and licensing agreements, generating more than $60 million in income

UAB has spun off more than 50 start-up companies based on its discoveries and inventions. Many of them got off the ground at Innovation Depot, a business incubator in downtown Birmingham operated as a partnership among UAB, the regional business community, private foundations, and local governments.

Endomimetics: Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Brigitta Brott, M.D., and Ho-Wook Jun, Ph.D., an associate professor of biomedical engineering, have developed a solution to problems in patients with coronary stents. Their bionanomatrix coating is intended to inhibit blood-clot formation and renarrowing of arteries while enhancing the healing process. The coating is free of synthetic materials, which reduces the risk of inflammation and clotting.

The pair applied for and received a Wallace Coulter Foundation grant, which matches biomedical faculty with a clinician/researcher in an effort to bring to market a product that will benefit patients. After attending the Coulter Foundation’s business training and an “Idea to IPO” class in the UAB School of Business, Brott and Jun determined the fastest way to get the coating to market was to form a company and partner with device manufacturers. Endomimetics was founded in November 2009 and now resides at Innovation Depot. “I see patients clotting up or renarrowing all the time, and I had this sense of urgency to get this to other patients,” Brott explains.

Coronary stents are the biggest, but not the only, market for the material. The coating is already in the process of being tested on another device through a partnership with a major manufacturer.

Brott credits UAB’s atmosphere with helping her company to get off the ground. “Unlike some places I’ve been in the past, this is truly a collaborative place,” she says.