Elevator Pitch Olympics features life science startups

Several startups that pitched at this week’s Early Stage Symposium are developing new therapies and exploratory health tests.

The Madison conference is put on by the Wisconsin Technology Council, to get early-stage companies in the same room with established investors and successful entrepreneurs. Sixteen startups presented as part of the Elevator Pitch Olympics, which gave each 90 seconds to explain their business model.

Presenters covered diverse topics like fuel delivery, hypodermic needle disposal, self-defense weaponry, new battery technology and even pizza.

Three life science startups presented ideas related to novel therapies and tests for serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and prostate cancer.

Neurosolis has developed a patented molecule which can address symptoms of schizophrenia currently ignored by current therapies. That’s according to Joseph Beck, co-founder for the early-stage Madison startup.

He says medications exist which address the hallucinations and delusions associated with the disease, but other symptoms such as reduction in cognition and inability to express feelings still go untreated.

“These symptoms prevent people from establishing good personal relationships, and holding jobs,” he said yesterday. “Our molecule targets an established mechanism in the brain with established therapeutic benefits, reducing the risk.”

In his pitch presentation, he acknowledged investors can balk at the prospect of going through years of research and clinical trials before seeing any success. But he notes similar businesses in the market have seen early exits after being bought out by large pharmaceutical companies.

Beck says Neurosolis is currently seeking $4 million to get through early clinical trials, with a goal of overtaking a competitor who’s got a bit of a lead. He says that competitor is currently in advanced clinical trials, but calls its candidate molecule “inferior” due to its side effects.

“We can follow on their coattails with a superior molecule,” he said.

Ohana Vaccines has a vaccine immunotherapy for prostate cancer, a disease affecting nearly 2 million men around the world every year.

David Lubaroff is a professor emeritus at the University of Iowa, and founder and chief science officer for Ohana Vaccines. He points out that nearly 40 percent of prostate cancer patients that go through “front-line” therapies such as surgeries or radiation have a recurrence of the disease.

He says there’s no cure currently on the market for recurrent prostate cancer, but preclinical trials of Ohana’s therapy have shown very promising results. He says it has destroyed all of the tumors in “100 percent of experimental animals.”

He claims it’s a safe therapy with no serious side effects, “unlike current therapies.”

“The market for prostate cancer in the United States alone is $18.7 billion and $7.48 billion for recurrent prostate cancer alone,” he said. “We are preparing our submission to the FDA and are requesting up to $4 million to get us to and through a combined Phase 1, Phase 2 clinical trial.”

BiomeSense is developing a hardware and software platform enabling the routine collection and analysis of “daily microbiome data” from stool samples. That provides insight about the communities of bacteria that live inside all humans and help regulate health.

CEO Kevin Honaker refers to the microbiome as the “next frontier” of precision medicine, “following in the same path as genetics.”  

“Just like our genes, it’s unique to each of us and gives us valuable insights on our health,” he said. “But for right now, the microbiome is more hype than reality. We simply don’t understand it well enough to translate it for clinical use.”

That’s because unlike genes, the microbiome changes every day due to both natural rhythms and external variables. Honaker says that means scientists studying this field of health need to track their patients “every single day” to understand what’s going on.

“Right now, that’s impossible because the only tools to collect this data are too inconvenient and expensive to use more than a few times during a trial,” he said. “Until this problem is solved, the microbiome will never be able to take the next step.”

The central piece of the BiomeSense platform is a biosensor being developed in partnership with the University of Chicago. The device automatically collects and analyzes patients’ microbiome daily “for less than 5 percent the cost of current solutions,” Honaker said.

“We plan on selling this technology to investigators conducting clinical research in academia and industry into the microbiome with the goal of turning the microbiomes hype into reality,” he said.

–By Alex Moe