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Ecosystem of biomedical startups blooms in Buffalo

It’s starting to happen. The life-sciences economy in Buffalo is beginning to take off. The ecosystem needed to support medical and biotech start-up companies is taking hold. Business-minded scientists are commercializing research conducted in laboratories at the University at Buffalo, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and other institutions. That work is spurred on by hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Programs such as the state’s Buffalo Billion economic-development initiative and its Start-Up NY tax incentives are drawing out-of-town companies to the Medical Campus and other incubator space here.

It’s hard to say precisely how many biomedical start-ups are located in Buffalo, but the best estimate is the region hosts between 150 and 275 life sciences, biotech and medical IT start-up companies.

The lower figure takes into account companies with an independent address and with a business plan and funding mechanism in place, said Kim B. Grant, business development executive at UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. The higher figure casts a wider net to include would-be entrepreneurs with “a minimally viable technology,” she said.

The start-ups are part of a growing life-sciences economy here. The industry employed 10,958 people in the eight counties of Western New York in 2014, a figure that rose by 9.1 percent over the previous four years, according to Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.

Not all of the start-ups will succeed, of course, because not every bright idea will lead to a commercially viable drug or technology. And it’s extraordinarily difficult for start-ups to raise money.

But here are a few young companies that show promise.

Lineagen

Address: Started in Salt Lake City, opened office in UB’s bioinformatics center

Founded: 2002

Employees: about 50, and 10 hires for the Buffalo office

Funding: $30 million in venture capital funding

Launched as the Lineagen Research Corp. by the State of Utah to commercialize the extensive database of genealogical and medical records maintained by Utah’s Mormon population, according to Mark Smith, Lineagen’s national director of business development, who is based in Buffalo.

The company conducts testing of children with clinical symptoms of autism and other forms of developmental delay, to give parents and doctors the best information as early as possible, using cheek swabs instead of blood draws to minimize the trauma for the children.

Lineagen is beginning research on testing for multiple sclerosis and the common lung disease COPD, Smith said.

Lineagen was one of the first companies selected for the Start-Up NY program and is part of a state-funded genomic medicine project that links researchers in Buffalo and Manhattan. Archipel Capital, a Buffalo based investment firm, is one of its primary backers.

Aesku Diagnostics

Address: 700 and 701 Ellicott St.

Founded: 15 years ago in Germany, with the Buffalo operation started in May 2014

Employees: 4 in Buffalo

Funding: from the parent company

The medical diagnostics company is based in Germany and has operations in California and Georgia. Aesku develops tests and instruments to help in the detection of autoimmune diseases, and will develop and manufacture testing kits in Buffalo.

The company expects to employ more than 30 people within five years in space on the Medical Campus. Aesku’s investment was valued at $2.8 million when the governor’s office announced its inclusion in the Start-Up NY incentive program last year.

Aesku also was selected to take part in the genomic medicine project that includes Lineagen. The researchers will help identify the genes responsible for the diseases with which Aesku works.

Buffalo BioLabs

Address: 73 High St.

Founded: 2009

Employees: 27

Funding: Expects to begin raising money early this year

Buffalo BioLabs was founded in 2009 with a handful of employees and significantly expanded its contract research services model in 2013, when Cleveland BioLabs announced it was shifting its laboratory and preclinical services staff to Buffalo BioLabs, an affiliated company.

Buffalo BioLabs specializes in contracted research of the toxicity and effectiveness of future drugs in rodents using models previously established in the drug development field as well as developing custom models.

The company’s operations are funded by revenue from service contracts and government grants and contracts. But Buffalo BioLabs said it hopes to begin raising money from investors in the first quarter of 2015.

Everon Biosciences

Address: 640 Ellicott St.

Founded: 2010

Employees: 15

Funding: $5 million from Skolkovo, a Russian venture fund, and an undisclosed amount from another Russian venture fund

Previously known as Tartis Aging, Everon was founded by Andrei Gudkov, Roswell Park’s senior vice president for basic science and chairman of its department of cell stress biology.

Everon is developing drugs that fight the aging process and age-related diseases, including prostate cancer and other forms of cancer, Type II diabetes, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The company has contracts with Roswell Park, Buffalo BioLabs, a company in the Bay Area and a group in Russia.

HarkerBIO

Address: 700 Ellicott St.

Founded: 2014

Employees: 5

Funding: $1 million raised

Using technology developed at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, where HarkerBIO is located, the company is trying to develop next-generation drugs for a wide spectrum of diseases and health conditions.

HarkerBIO helps drug and biotech companies better understand the three-dimensional structures of diseases. Giving companies more information about the structure of a disease helps speed up the process of designing a drug to target that disease, said HarkerBIO CEO Paul Sargeant.

The company is collaborating with UB’s Center for Computational Research and, as part of its participation in the Start-Up NY program, would add five jobs, doubling its workforce, and invest $500,000 in its new facility, Sargeant said.

Tonus Therapeutics

Address: 701 Ellicott St.

Founded: 2009

Employees: 4

Funding: $300,000 in private funds

Tonus is pursuing a treatment for a form of muscular dystrophy based on a protein found in tarantula venom. The company, based in the bioinformatics center, builds on research conducted by UB biophysicists Frederick Sachs, Thomas Suchyna and Philip Gottlieb. That work was supported by $20 million from the National Institutes of Health and the Oishei Foundation.

Researchers at Tonus hope the potential therapy known as AT-300 can slow the muscle deterioration that marks Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The company last year sold the rights to the drug to Akashi Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass., clinical stage biopharmaceutical firm. Under terms of the deal with Tonus, Akashi will further develop AT-300.

Akashi is sublicensing the global intellectual property and commercialization rights for AT-300 from Tonus, which licenses the rights from UB. The university and Tonus will receive royalties on sales.

Sinapis Pharma

Address: Formerly a virtual company, now opening a lab in UB’s Biosciences Incubator, 875 Ellicott St.

Founded: 2006

Employees: 3

Funding: $3 million from private investment and $3 million in federal grants

Sinapis grew out of research conducted at the University of Montana that found methamphetamine, administered in low doses to rats, shows promise in treating traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The treatment also shows promise for treating stroke and TBI-induced epilepsy, according to the company.

The start-up has a handful of employees scattered around the country but was drawn to Buffalo by Start-Up NY and the chance to work with UB neuroscientists.

Sinapis is completing toxicology studies in the first part of this year that will allow the company to apply for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin a Phase II clinical trial in TBI patients by the end of the year, said David Poulsen, the company’s chief scientific officer, who was moving into his Buffalo lab this month.

Infonaut

Address: Jacobs Institute, 875 Ellicott St.

Founded: 2006 in Toronto

Employees: 3 full time, 2 part time

Funding: raised $3.5 million in Canada

Launched following the SARS crisis, Infonaut uses real-time surveillance technology to prevent the spread of infections and improve patient safety in hospitals.

The health care IT company has set up an American company, Infonaut Holdings, opened an office on the Medical Campus and applied for the Start-Up NY program. It hopes to have between six and eight employees in Buffalo by the end of the year, said Tom Quinn, Infonaut’s Buffalo-based president and CEO.

Niall Wallace, Infonaut’s chief innovation officer, has played a leading role recently in trying to link Toronto-based start-ups to the Medical Campus.

Canget BioTekpharma

Address: 701 Ellicott St.

Founded: April 2012

Employees: 3

Funding: Raised $425,000 through private financing and grants

A Roswell Park Cancer Institute spin-off, Canget BioTekpharma has identified a water-insoluble drug that could be used to treat late-stage colon cancer and other types of cancer. In several preclinical trials, its lead agent has proven safe and effective in eliminating tumors in animal models, said Fengzhi Li, a Canget founder and chairman of its board.

Canget was selected for Start-Up NY last year. The company has raised $425,000 from federal and private sources and is in line to obtain about $1.5 million from the National Cancer Institute.

In 2015, Canget expects to hire one or two additional employees, including a veteran fundraiser to help move its drug development onto a faster track, Li said.

AccuTheranostics

Address: UB Biosciences Incubator

Founded: 2012

Employees: 3

Funding: $100,000

The company develops personalized chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients, relying on a laboratory test that uses the patient’s own tumor cells to determine before treatment begins which drugs have the most, or least, potential to work, said Steven Cerne, a senior adviser.

Generate BioMed

Address: Founded in Buffalo; research continues here, but administrative offices moved to Manhattan.

Founded: 2011

Employees: 2

Funding: Investors in Buffalo and the National Cancer Institute

Generate BioMed was founded by Dr. Jeffrey Serbin and Michael Rosenman to commercialize technology developed at Roswell Park by John Subjeck and Shawn Wang. The company is seeking novel therapeutic vaccines for cancer treatment.

Generate BioMed’s technology stimulates the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer or infectious diseases, Serbin said.

The company is conducting an initial Phase I clinical trial for patients with melanoma and expects to have data from the trial sometime this year.

Nupur Technologies

Address: 1576 Sweet Home Road, Amherst

Founded: 2013

Employees: Expects to employ 33

Funding: Company is investing $862,000 in its lab and offices

Nupur Technologies is developing a device for doctors to clear wax blockages in ears. The medical-device company conducts research and development at its facilities in UB’s Baird Research Park.

email: swatson@buffnews.com