INDIANAPOLIS — Auricyte LLC, a company launched by three Indiana University scientists to cure hearing loss by turning human stem cells into hearing cells, won the Best Pre-Venture category Wednesday at the BioCrossroads New Venture Competition.
The victory marks the third time in four years that a product of IU’s Spin Up program, created by the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp. to help researchers with commercially promising technologies start their own companies, has won the pre-venture category. In 2012, Sophia Therapeutics won the $10,000 prize for its proposal to treat neuropathic pain. In 2013, Emphymab was honored for its work toward treating emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Another Spin Up company, Arrhythmotech LLC, took second place and $15,000 in the overall competition, which began with 30 entrants before six finalists were announced Monday. Last year’s overall winner, Anagin LLC, also is a Spin Up company.
“At IU, we have some of the best minds on the planet working on some of the most important problems we face as a society,” said Joe Trebley, director of the Spin Up program. “The recognition our startups receive through competitions like these gives validation to that as well as encouragement that we will make our solutions a reality.”
BioCrossroads’ pre-venture prize goes to startups that offer substantial business potential but are very early in development. Founded in 2014, Auricyte is developing a first-of-its-kind “ear-in-a-dish” technology that extends therapy for hearing loss beyond the amplified sound that hearing aids and cochlear implants currently offer.
Through published research by Auricyte co-founders Karl Koehler and Eri Hashino, inner-ear cells from a mouse were shown for the first time to be grown from stem cells in 3-D cultures. The company also holds the only patent pending for such technology.
Koehler is an assistant professor in the IU School of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and serves as Auricyte’s chief science officer. Hashino, a professor in the same department, has more than 20 years of experience in studying inner-ear development and regeneration. The third founder, Gerry Oxford, is a professor of pharmacology and toxicology as well as executive director of the IU School of Medicine’s Stark Neurosciences Research Institute.
Last month, Auricyte also was among five companies honored as “Best in Show” at Innovation Showcase 2015, held at Speedway’s Dallara IndyCar Factory.
“We are very pleased to win this award from BioCrossroads, especially when you consider both the excellent ideas and promise that the other finalists offer and the meticulous evaluation that the entrants go through,” Koehler said. “This honor is special in that it brings not just financial support but valuable momentum in aiding the advancement of our product as we work to enter the market.”
Arrhythmotech was co-founded in 2012 by Dr. Peng-Sheng Chen and Shein-Fong Lin. The company is developing noninvasive ways to monitor both sympathetic nerve activity and electrocardiogram signals through its neuECG device. Currently, no device allows simultaneous detection of sympathetic nerve activity and electrocardiogram signals in this manner. While several electrocardiogram technologies are noninvasive, sympathetic nerve activity detection requires direct nerve contact.
Chen serves as division chief of the Krannert Institute of Cardiology and is the Medtronic Zipes Chair in Cardiology at the IU School of Medicine. Lin is a professor of medicine at the IU School of Medicine and director of the Institute for Biomedical Engineering at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan.
A third IU-related company, Ossa Biomedical, also was among the finalists in the BioCrossroads competition, which was held in conjunction with the 2015 Indiana Life Sciences Summit at Indianapolis’ JW Marriott hotel. Ossa was founded in 2013 to develop novel diagnostic tools and therapies for bone ailments such as osteogenesis imperfecta, or OI, a genetic disorder that causes brittle bones.
While current treatments do not stimulate bone formation and actually lower bone turnover, Ossa’s lead scientific adviser, Hiroki Yokota, has identified a novel signaling pathway that affects bone development. Through an exclusive licensing agreement with the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., Ossa is working to commercialize the drug Salubrinal to treat OI.
Along with Yokota, Ossa’s management team includes president and CEO J.R. Renbarger and chief technology officer Alexander Brethauer. Renbarger holds an MBA in entrepreneurship and finance from IU’s Kelley School of Business. Brethauer holds a Kelley MBA specializing in entrepreneurship and marketing. Yokota is a professor of biomedical engineering at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The competition’s overall winner was West Lafayette-based Phytoption, which turns high-value, insoluble ingredients into soluble solutions for food, supplements, cosmetics and pharmaceutical uses such as antioxidants and anti-cancer drugs. Along with $25,000, the winner also receives business planning and early strategic support from the Indiana Seed Fund II, as well as the opportunity for more exposure by making a presentation to the fund’s investment committee.
The BioCrossroads New Venture Competition is open to startups that are based in or have significant ties to Indiana. They must specialize in biotechnology, pharmaceutical products, medical devices, diagnostic equipment, agricultural-biotech applications or health-focused information technology. Each company is vetted based on:
A general overview that includes such factors as the underlying business model, the vision of its founders, challenges, investment requirements and current funding
Presentation of market overview, opportunity, and solution — the ability to show there is a valid need for their products
Development plans, which cover the cost and length of time to develop a product; risk; regulatory issues; and control or access to owned, licensed or protectable intellectual property and technology
Their management teams and a financial analysis
Since its launch in 2012, the competition has awarded more than $180,000 to 12 startup companies, which in turn have secured more than $7 million in follow-on funding. Sponsors of the event were Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, 5AM Ventures, VisionTech Partners LLC, MED Institute, HALO Capital Group and DeveloperTown.
About BioCrossroads: BioCrossroads is Indiana’s initiative to grow, advance and invest in the life sciences. It is a public-private collaboration that supports the region’s existing research and corporate strengths while encouraging new business development. It provides money and support to life-sciences businesses, launches new life-sciences enterprises, expands collaboration and partnerships among Indiana’s life-science institutions, promotes science education, and markets Indiana’s life-sciences industry.
About IURTC: IURTC is a not-for-profit agency that helps IU faculty and researchers realize the commercial potential of their discoveries. Since 1997, IURTC’s university clients have accounted for more than 2,800 inventions, nearly 1,900 patent applications and more than 80 startup companies. IURTC is part of the Innovate Indiana initiative, which engages strategic partners to leverage and advance IU’s intellectual resources and expertise, enhance Indiana’s economic growth and contribute to the overall quality of life for Hoosiers. Indiana University is designated as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. This recognizes IU’s commitment across all its campuses to being a leading institution in fostering regional economic development.