VOL. 130 | NO. 246 | Friday, December 18, 2015
From Hospitals to Startups, 2015 a Big Year for Memphis Health Community
By Andy Meek
From groundbreaking research to big-dollar grants and awards, startup launches and breakthrough innovations, Memphis’ health care, life sciences and biotech community took some significant leaps forward in 2015.
The growth was evident at all levels of the ecosystem, from the biggest hospitals down to the clinical and even startup sector, where a quartet of such ventures represented the latest ZeroTo510 cohort earlier this year.
Dr. Michael Herr fills vials in a biotechnical safety cabinet at CirQuest Labs. Herr is a scientist at CirQuest, which is participating in the Memphis Bioworks Foundation’s incubator.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
That’s the Memphis Bioworks Foundation’s medical device startup accelerator. This year saw companies go through it that are focused on products and concepts like allowing for the conducting of automated respiratory and rapid vitals exams on children; measuring glucose in diabetic patients’ urine; preserving hospital patients’ IV sites and central lines; and using medical-grade honey as an ingredient in membranes for tissue regeneration used in oral surgeries.
A measure of the program’s success is when investors are convinced to open their checkbooks. To that end, SweetBio – the startup focused on wound-healing biomaterials – announced in recent days it’s raised more than $1 million in the last six months.
While it’s not a comprehensive list, here’s a look at some other noteworthy developments on these fronts in Memphis this year:
Along similar lines of research and experimentation, one Memphis enterprise has been involved in waging a fight against strep throat. Memphis-based Vaxent and the Pan-Provincial Vaccine Enterprise Inc. initiated a Phase 1 clinical trial of StreptAnova, a vaccine meant to prevent Group A streptococcal infections.
The trial is being conducted at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Vaxent chief scientific officer James B. Dale, who also serves as a professor of medicine and chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, invented the vaccine based on more than 25 years of laboratory research. Dale’s work has put him in the Bioworks orbit, where he’s had frequent interaction with its president and executive director, Steve Bares.
“We have spent quite a bit of time since our founding in 2001 at building an ecosystem that is about driving organic growth,” Bares said. “Jim is one of the world’s experts, and we can’t forget his role at the medical school. It connects all the dots of our assets in the community.”
Over at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, it’s now treating patients in its new proton therapy center with an advanced form of radiation technology.
The hospital’s new proton therapy system is being used to treat brain tumors, Hodgkin lymphoma and other solid tumors. St. Jude says it’s the most advanced form of radiation technology available to patients because of the way it lets doctors use fine beams to precisely target cancer cells with high doses of radiation while sparing nearby cells and organs.
On the research front, Dr. Catherine Kaczorowski, an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, got a $418,000 grant to pursue her research of Alzheimer’s disease and memory failure.
Research Associate Jack Jalenak resuspends platelets for analysis at CirQuest labs, which is participating in the Memphis Bioworks Foundation’s incubator.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
It will allow her and her team to try to identify new molecules that underlie unusual changes in the functional connectivity of neurons across different brain regions and watch how changes contribute to memory deficits in Alzheimer’s disease. The university says that, if successful, the research could lead to the development of new therapies that maintain cognitive function in the elderly and reduce the suffering experienced by dementia patients and their families.
Also at UTHSC, Dr. Michio Kurosu got a grant totaling $431,000 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, to develop new antibacterial agents for infections caused by deadly superbugs that are resistant to multiple antibiotics.
Among other headlines from 2015 that reflect the influence of the medical community here, Southern College of Optometry released a study a few months ago highlighting its importance as a major economic driver in the Memphis area. The report determined that each year, counting the college’s impact from business, student expenditures and graduates, its overall economic influence is $124 million and 1,161 jobs.
Over at the West Cancer Center, which has a partnership with Methodist Healthcare and UTHSC, it cut the ribbon in November on a 123,251-square-foot space dedicated to oncology care and research at 7945 Wolf River Blvd. And a few months ago, relatives of West Clinic founder Dr. William West said they’ve committed a multimillion-dollar gift to the University of Tennessee/West Institute for Cancer Research, the West Cancer Center’s fundraising arm.
Campbell Clinic also opened a new spine center at 8000 Centerview Parkway. Campbell Clinic CEO George Hernandez told The Daily News it was built with efficiency and patient flow in mind and consolidates almost all of the clinic’s spine-related providers and equipment.
Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and UTHSC also last month announced a $40 million gift, the largest single donation in the health care system’s nearly 100-year history.
The funds will be used to transform the current Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute, which Methodist says is already among the top 10 liver transplant programs and top 15 overall transplant programs by volume in the nation.