By Tracy Wright
Imagine a medical company dedicated to repairing peripheral nerve damage that could save the arm of a battle-injured U.S. soldier, or another that created a blood test for detecting concussions. Another company is working fervently to create a vaccine to prevent and/or reverse type 1 diabetes while a digital health company has developed a patented pill with a sensor that can be tracked to determine if a patient has taken the prescribed medication. What do these companies have in common? They are all located or can tie their roots to greater Gainesville.
These are medical companies working to make real impacts for consumers and patients across the globe. Through the ascension of the University of Florida’s research and health missions, a burgeoning Gainesville medical community and the growth of innovation and business incubators, both established and new medical companies are developing solutions to real-world patient problems.
UF Innovate is the umbrella organization over four organizations: Tech Licensing, Ventures, and two business incubators, the Hub and Sid Martin Biotech.
“UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the laboratory to the market, fostering a resilient economy and making the world a better place,” said Sara Dagen, marketing and communications manager at UF Innovate. “We support a growing field of medical advances and knowledge. UF researchers continue to discover all sorts of technologies that can result in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and treatments that can help or even heal patients all over the world.”
Startup companies form around a technology or invention. The startup company builds a business to develop the invention and get it to market. Tech Licensing at UF Innovate reaches out to companies or talented entrepreneurs who might be interested in building a startup company around those inventions.
ViewRay is a local startup that created a system to offer combined imaging and radiation treatment to target cancer therapy directly to tumors, reducing its impact on health tissue. Another startup, Sharklet, employs a sharkskin- patterned film to combat health- care acquired diseases without the use of chemicals. The mimicked pattern prevents bacteria and viruses from adhering to surfaces.
A startup that has grown larger is AxoGen, a leading med tech company dedicated to peripheral nerve repair located in Alachua and based on UF technology. Patients who benefit from AxoGen’s several products, have suffered from traumatic peripheral nerve injuries or require nerve reconstruction after nerve damage from neuroma revisions, surgical intervention or chronic compression injuries. [87 percent of patients have peripheral nerve injuries.]
Banyan Biomarkers, which was founded by scientists from the UF McKnight Brain Institute, states that their mission is to “pioneer the innovation, development, and commercialization of biomarkers to accurately and quickly diagnose traumatic brain injuries.” The company has developed the first blood test to assess concussion in adults, eliminating the need for CT scans and exposure to radiation. In October 2018, they were awarded a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to procure the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator® (Banyan BTITM). They will be working with military bases across the country using the test on soldiers who have a suspected traumatic brain injury.
Approximately 1.25 million American children and adults have Type 1 diabetes, and the American Diabetes Association estimates that 40,000 people receive a type 1 diagnosis each year. Located in Alachua, Florida as part of the Sid Martin Institute, OneVax, LLC is comprised of a group of researchers and others passionate about finding solutions for type 1 diabetes conditions. Their ultimate goal is to develop a vaccine, which will prevent or reverse type 1 diabetes. OneVax is currently working with three technologies using biomaterials and polymers for applications including multicomponent and time-release drug delivery. Led by Mark Atkinson, a UF Eminent Scholar for Diabetes Research and director of the Diabetes Institute, OneVax has received numerous federal grants to date to support their ground-breaking research.
Prometheon Pharma is developing patented TopiconTM, a transdermal delivery technology which means medication is delivered via a skin patch versus painful needles. It is capable of comprising a large molecule medication stabilized at room temperature. When applied to the skin, Topicon melts into a gel that is able to provide continuous delivery for a healing response like that of an injection. The researchers behind Topicon envision various uses of their product including treatment for bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections which would deliver the drugs for the prescribed period of time and eliminate the need for many pills.
Prometheon is also working on patch delivery of drugs to children and adults through their TruepatchTM products. The first TruepatchTM product that has been developed is an insulin patch for diabetics that provide multi-day insulin treatment for a single and convenient formula, reducing the stress and frequency of daily needle insulin therapy. This is the first of an entire TopiconDMTM Diabetes Therapy product line for transdermal delivery of drugs to treat Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Sometimes, some of the most amazing medical advances go beyond the lab. MYOLIN is a company started by two UF engineers dedicated to improving the health and function of paralyzed people. After years of study, they developed the MyoCycle. The MyoCycle uses electrical stimulation for paralyzed patients to work out at home or in therapy. Affordable and easy to use, the MyoCycle helps to stimulate blood flow, prevent muscle atrophy and help with range of motion.
One such company combines the latest in medical and gene therapy advancements with personalized medicine. CancerPOP, is a personalized medicine service that helps cancer patients
when typical treatments no longer work or even at the beginning of a cancer patient’s journey. POP stands for Precision Oncology Program®, which used DNA sequencing and modern technology to predict how a person’s cancer will respond to medical treatment, simulate the effects of drug combinations and identify the best interventions based on a patient’s unique genetic profile.
Future rising stars include etectRX which is developing a system that will help patients and health care providers improve medication adherence. The company is developing the ID-cap, which has the ID-TagTM. It uses etectRx’s technology to transmit a digital message to a reader which uses Bluetooth technology to transmit medication usage to an app on the patient’s phone. The app can be used to remind patients to take their medication, provide a record of their medication use and come full circle to provide information to the patient’s health care provider, all via a private and safe network. This can allow health care providers to give personalized medicine support to the patient or for a researcher to record adherence during clinical trials.
Another future star is Entrinsic Health Solutions, who recently made the news because Nestle has made a deal with the company to make and sell its enterade beverage, an amino-acid beverage that aids cancer patients and those with chronic gastrointestinal issues.
It is simply amazing that all of these medical advances have their roots in greater Gainesville and UF. The connections between scientists, researchers, business leaders, the greater Gainesville health care community and our area patients and advocates have allowed these businesses and medical miracles to blossom.
“With the larger Hub located in Innovation Square and Sid Martin located in Progress Park in Alachua, the university campus just blocks away, and a UF president determined to make it into the Top 5 public universities, the future looks great,” Dagen said. “We’ve got the tools to connect innovators, investors and industry. We’ve got incubators designed to press companies toward success. We’ve got amazing researchers passionate about nding solutions to diseases and disorders. The stage is set, the actors primed to perform, and the audience is excited to see what comes next.”