The fourth Jumpstart Davis event drew another large and diverse group of people. The theme focused a bit more narrowly this time, as it highlighted three local companies in the fields of biotech and medtech. Speakers included Sudhee Lakshmana, co-founder of SonanuTech, Paul Henderson from Accelerated Medical Diagnostics, and Charles Lee, who is the founder of Molecular Matrix.
Michael Bisch, one of the organizers of the event, highlighted a comment that presenter Charles Lee made in the Vanguard yesterday, “A technology that the world needs in the hands of right people with passion makes the startup journey so much more fun and exciting. Startup founders must be able to captivate, motivate and empower people around with a clear vision and objective that can change and improve the way to do things in our society.”
Paul Henderson, CEO of Accelerated Medical Diagnostics, stated, “It’s a high probability, high consequence event if you get cancer if you don’t know which drug to take to cure your disease.”
“Chemotherapy needs help, less than 60 percent of patients respond,” he said, stating they are in the business of matching the drug used to the cancer someone has. “They get sick, they undergo expensive therapy, and they don’t get better too frequently.”
They developed a test “that predicts response to chemotherapy. It’s minimally invasive – you take a small injection, small blood sample, small tumor sample. It’s sensitive to factors that genetic tests may miss.”
He said this is safe. They have done it on 18 people so far and there have been no side effects. He said, “I believe based on very good reasons that these tests will save lives.”
“The secret sauce is called micro-dosing,” he said. “You give the patients 100 percent of the dose – a few percent of people actually die. If you give them 1 percent of the dose, no one gets sick, nobody gets better but nobody dies.”
“Then we can take samples of how well a patient’s cells take up that drug and analyze that to see whether they really will respond to the therapy,” he said. This allows them to test whether they will respond to therapy at low doses that will not harm the patient prior to proceeding with the treatment.
“If you give them the poison first and then you do the test, that’s not much of a diagnostic,” Mr. Henderson said.
Sudhee Lakshmana, co-founder of SonanuTech, started in 2012 with technology that came out of UC Davis. He said they have the ability to do various testing 1000 times better than what’s currently now in the market.
“It’s a platform that’s based on nanotechnology,” he said. The platform offers very sensitive testing for anything that they wish to analyze, whether its DNA, proteins, virus, etc. “Essentially what we can do is condense a lab test onto a chip. That’s what we’re going to achieve.”
Once they developed these tests they looked around to make forays into biomedical applications. So they moved into an industry that really needed this technology, bio-fermentation. In bio-fermentation there are viruses that eat bacteria. “For bio-fermentation that relies on bacteria, that’s critical,” he said. “They can eat away the product in no time.”
They looked for ways in which they could detect these viruses that eat away at the bacteria very quickly.
“The need in the industry is that they need to have a test for these viruses that eat the bacteria in three hours,” he said. “Especially the cheese industry that market in the US, they would love to have something in less than three hours.”
“What we can show them is that we can do the steps in less than an hour,” he said. “We have talked to a number of big name cheese makers” who have expressed interest in working with them.
He said another big market is the biomedical application market. “What we are looking at right now is we’re trying to understand if we can detect bacterial infections in the bloodstream, so if the infection happens in the ER, in the field, we know exactly if it’s bacterial, viral, or fungal.”
Currently, the time it takes to run a test is about eight hours, by the time they get the blood work to the lab and analyze it. “That takes time,” he said. “From test to answer is about eight hours.” “Imagine if you run a test in an ER setting where you just draw blood and you have a test in less than an hour,” he stated.
This is a win-win situation for everybody, he said. For the patient it means the right diagnosis in less than an hour and avoiding the need to take antibiotics unnecessarily. For a clinician, it means the right choice, and for the insurance company, it means they spend less, he told the crowd.
“We can save time, money and lives when we put it in an ER setting,” he said. SonanuTech is one of the companies being assisted by Davis Roots.
Charles Lee, who is the founder of Molecular Matrix, came to Davis in 1993 – he was an undergraduate, graduate, and post doc at UC Davis. Mr. Lee explained that cells were first grown in 1885. “Since 1885, people still grow cells in a two-dimensional monolayer on a flat surface.”
These cells are used for drug discovery and all sorts of other purposes.
“But this creates a really interesting problem. These cells that are grown on a 2D, monolayer, they don’t sufficiently express what happens in complex 3D systems,” he said. “But unfortunately 90 percent of the industry, academia, still grow cells in a monolayer. But that doesn’t represent a complex 3D system.”
We need to move away from the practice of growing cells on a monolayer toward 3D. “This is a technology we developed at UC Davis and now we are growing cells three-dimensionally,” he said.
“We can grow cells 3D inside the body and outside the body,” he explained. Inside the body they can be used for a clinical product for patients. Outside of the body, they can be used for drug screening and toxicology in many different application.
“Our company objective is to research human tissues in the body and outside the body for clinical and research applications,” Mr. Lee continued.
He said that they can make bone, skin and cartilage for the patients. He said there is about a $4.5 billion market for bone which is growing 4.9 percent each year. These could end up being used for all sorts of purposes.
“All of those patients need a bone that’s not coming from someplace else in the body but something that’s off the shelf,” he explained. He said they can make these products available for patients who need bones.
They have done clinical tests and, after five months, they have found that the bones they developed perform as well as their own bones from the patient’s own body.
“We can show that the bone that was made in the body is actually as good as the bone that came from the patient,” he said. He pointed to the slide and said, “This is our product and this is a bone and I don’t see any difference between the two.”
In our interviews prior to the event, Charles Lee told the Vanguard, as Michael Bisch had repeated to the audience, “A technology that the world needs in the hands of right people with passion makes the startup journey so much more fun and exciting. Startup founders must be able to captivate, motivate and empower people around with a clear vision and objective that can change and improve the way to do things in our society.”
Paul Henderson stated, “Put a lot of time up front to talking to the major shareholders – other physicians, potential customers, talk to investors, and do your best to find out if it’s really a commercially viable potential produce prior to development because you can spend a lot of time developing something and if there’s no market for it or there’s no investors, you will just put a lot of effort into essentially nothing.”
Sudhee Lakshmana advised that potential entrepreneurs be persistent. “It’s a given,” he said. “If you want to get started you cannot give up so easily – if you believe in it.” He said they have been very persistent, while they don’t have a product ready to launch yet, they see that there is a need.
In addition to the work of Jumpstart Davis and Davis Roots, as an organization that assists with startups, a non-profit community coworking space, POLLINATE Davis, is opening its doors this month to local startups. POLLINATE is located in the heart of Downtown Davis, at Regency Square, 508 Second Street, Suite 208. POLLINATE Davis has four private offices as well as a conference room and desks, which can be rented by individuals. They will be hosting classes on marketing, business, and programming for both their tenants as well as members of the public.
—David M. Greenwald reporting