Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rare Disease Science Challenge Offers $400,000 in Cash & Services

San Diego’s Assay Depot, which operates an online marketplace for the life sciences industry, and the nonprofit Rare Genomics Institute say they have joined with 19 life sciences companies in creating a “Rare Disease Science Challenge.”

The sponsoring organizations are offering as much as $400,000 in laboratory services, technology, and other resources—along with a $10,000 cash prize for the winning proposal. Guidelines call for researchers at nonprofit institutions to submit an online proposal for conducting research into a rare disease. Submissions will be evaluated by an expert scientific panel, which may award one or more donated services needed for the scientists to carry out the work. The deadline for submitting proposals is Dec. 15.

Top proposals selected by the panel also will be eligible on Facebook for voting by the rare disease community for the $10,000 prize. Finalists will be announced on Feb. 28, 2013, World Rare Disease Day.

Organizers say rare diseases affect over 25 million Americans, yet less than five percent of the 7,000 known rare diseases have any therapy. The Rare Genomics Institute, based in St. Louis, provides an expert network and an online crowdfunding mechanism to help families design and fund research in diseases that would not otherwise be studied.

Bruce V Bigelow

Monday, October 29, 2012

Trade Names: eHealthObjects wants its software to integrate other health care IT

Sanjay Mittal and his wife, Sunita Gupta, wanted to create information technology systems for the health care industry when they formed eHealthObjects Inc. in 2006.

They knew they had a challenge. Health information technology is very fragmented with many systems available that don't work together very easily.

They wanted eHealthObjects to develop software programs that would integrate with other health care technology systems.

"Innovation was the key," Mittal said.

One of eHealthObjects' products is its ThinkHIE, a health information exchange system that consolidates medical data from a variety of medical providers in a unified health history of patients.
Another offering is its ThinkCDM disease and case management software. The company's ThinkEHR provides software for health record management systems.

The company's software products are offered on eHealthObjects' private cloud. "That is key," Mittal said.

Mittal and Gupta first thought about starting a company in 2004 when both worked in the health care technology field.

In 2006, the couple hired a software developer to help begin creating software.

Mittal continued working for Coventry Health Care until 2010 when eHealthObjects' software products were ready for sale.

"We wanted to be primarily a products company," Mittal said. "We didn't want to be a services-only company."

The company's first clients were based in Virginia. Today, it has clients in Maryland, Illinois, Georgia, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Clients include state agencies, state universities, long-term care centers, nursing homes, rural hospitals, pharmacists, mental health counselors and public and private providers.
The couple found it difficult to get clients at first.

"We made contacts with people who have worked with us in the past," Mittal said, noting that the company provided some small initial project work for free with a stipulation that the client sign a contract with eHealthObjects. "For example, we gave the University of Maryland about $100,000 of work free. We were new in the market and didn't have a brand name. We don't have to do that anymore."

The company has grown mainly through word of mouth, networking and repeat business.
"We also attend trade shows and invite providers to our product launches," Mittal said. "We have a strong client base now."

Tara George, director of All Family Matters, a Richmond-based community health provider, had eHealthObjects tailor-design software for the organization.

"It was amazing," she said of the finished product. "I am an old-time paperwork person, and they made this user-friendly for me."

She likes that Mittal is always available for questions.

"I am a late worker, and I sent out a text to Sanjay in the middle of the night," she said. "He texted me back that night and said, 'Call me now.' "

Revenue at eHealthObjects rose 100 percent last year compared with 2010, when the company launched its products.

"This year, we are on track to do the same," Mittal said.

The company is considering expanding its services in and out of the United States.

"That is 12 to 18 months down the road," Mittal said.

When hiring employees, the couple always looks for local talent.

"People have told us to get offshore resources, but, as a corporate strategy, we have always said no to that," Mittal said. "We will never move our development offshore."

The couple used their own funds to start the company.

"There are no loans on the company," Mittal said. "We had money to invest, and I worked at other organizations to support the company. We didn't take out any business loans."

Wendy Cohen, comptroller and program administrator for the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, sees eHealthObjects as a "very progressive and exciting company."

"eHealthObjects has provided data analytics and secure portal services to the University of Maryland P3 Program for the past several months," she said. "We are very happy with their ability to accommodate our growing needs and allowing us the opportunity to manage large-scale proposals."

John Kleski, CEO of PhyMedica LLC, a Henrico County-based health care company that specializes in electronic medical records, contracted with eHealthObjects to develop software.

"Their work was within budget and time commitments," he said. "They were very professional and exceptionally skilled. They developed products in conjunction with our team without conflict. That is a very positive thing in this business."

By: Joan Tupponce
Richmond Times-Dispatch

HDL Gives $500,000 Donation for Fitness Initiative

An effort to encourage physical fitness in the Richmond area is getting a big financial boost from one of the region's fastest-growing companies.

Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. has donated $500,000 to the Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers, a nonprofit organization that puts together numerous local sports events, for its "Active RVA" initiative.

It is a lead donation in a campaign that kicked off Wednesday night to raise $4.5 million to support health and wellness activities in the area.

Among other things, Health Diagnostic's donation will help support an "active RVA stairwell initiative" to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the elevator. That involves placing signs with "whimsical messages" at the stairways in local offices, stores and museums.

The messages might say "Walk this Way" or "Don't Let the Machines Win," said Sports Backers Executive Director Jon Lugbill.

"It is a fun way to encourage that first step" to better health, he said.

Sport Backers also wants to develop an application for mobile phones and computers so physicians can identify specific, local fitness programs best suited for their patient's needs.

"A doctor is more likely to give (fitness) advice if they know what exercise program to tell their patients to use," Lugbill said. "The patient is much more likely to take it up if their doctor is telling them a specific thing to do."

A third part of the initiative is a certification and awards program to recognize local employers and schools that implement innovative programs promoting fitness and physical activity.

The $500,000 donation will help support the program for five years.

It was appropriate given Health Diagnostic's mission as a company to help identify and prevent diseases, said Tonya Mallory, the company's president and chief executive officer.

The company provides diagnostic services to detect early risk factors for conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It also provides lifestyle counseling for patients to help them avoid those conditions.

"What we want to do is make everyone aware of the small changes that we can make in our lives on a daily basis that make a huge impact on health," Mallory said.

Health Diagnostic has been adding hundreds of jobs locally and is expanding its offices and laboratories in the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park in downtown Richmond.

John Reid Blackwell
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Phthisis Diagnostics' President on Translating Research into Diagnostic Products

Here's a nice interview from MD+DI with Crystal Icenhour, Ph.D., President and Chief Science Officer with Phthisis Diagnostics.

Charlottesville, VA–based startup Phthisis Diagnostics began operations in 2006 with a mission to bridge the translational gap between infectious disease research and diagnostic products that help patients. The company now has its first product on the international marketplace and it is making progress in expanding its distribution channels. Only recently, Phthisis has announced distribution agreements for its products in Latin America, Asia, and the United Kingdom. In July, the company received a second round of angel funding.
MD+DI recently had the opportunity to speak with the company’s president and chief science officer, Crystal Icenhour, PhD, who was the recent recipient of the Kauffman Outstanding Postdoctoral Entrepreneur award and our very own “40 Under 40” feature. In this Q&A, Icenhour provides an overview of her plans for the company and how she became an entrepreneur.

MD+DI: Could you explain how the different distribution agreements Phthisis Diagnostics has signed recently are helping you to tap into the global diagnostics market?

Icenhour: Our first product is a tool that clinical laboratories use for doing the downstream diagnostic but it is not a diagnostic itself. Our second product, for which we are getting ready to start clinical trials, is a clinical diagnostic. Our strategy is to get all of our international distributors in place now so that once we get [regulatory approval for] the first diagnostic, we will be able to very quickly and efficiently push that out into [a number of markets]. Actually, before we get it cleared by FDA, we will be able to introduce it into a lot of the international markets because we are able to do the CE Marking more efficiently than going through the FDA clearance process.

MD+DI: I’ve heard a lot about how the CE Mark process is generally more efficient than going through the U.S. system. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Icenhour: For us, the CE Mark has been much more efficient than the FDA 510(k) clearance. It allows us to begin sales in Europe before we technically get our FDA clearance here in the United States. From a cash flow standpoint, that is ideal because we can begin bringing in revenue for the products. We can also begin collecting a lot more data about the product before it ever hits the U.S.-based market. There are a couple of different reasons why it has been beneficial to do that, but, right now, everybody is facing the same economic crunch. Getting revenues rolling in on each individual product as efficiently as we can is really important.

MD+DI: When you say “economic crunch,” are you referring to the global efforts to cut costs in healthcare?

Icenhour: More basic than that: we are an early stage company and we only have a certain amount of funds to carry us through. Our last round of funding was specifically invested to get us through clinical trials. If we expend those funds before we are able to make it all the way through our clinical trials without bringing in some sales revenues, that would be an issue because we don’t have unlimited resources to fund the company.

MD+DI: Another thing I was interested in relates to MD+DI’s selection of you for our “40 Under 40” features. Can you give me some background on how you became a healthcare entrepreneur at a young age?

Icenhour: To be honest, I didn’t really even think about it. I grew up in a family-run business and that was simply the way that my world existed. You see a problem, you create a solution for it and you run a company. In my case, it has been a much different industry. My family owns a truck repair shop. So I am definitely not in the same industry but the idea of working for yourself and of being able to step into a business setting wasn’t a foreign idea to me.

MD+DI: The mission of Phthisis Diagnostics is to bridge "the translational gap between infectious disease research and the patient." Could you provide some more context on how it does that?

Icenhour: A lot of my earlier days as a researcher were spent investigating things such as sugar transport pathways. Although it was very interesting, as a researcher I didn’t feel very fulfilled by that because it didn’t have an immediate or even a sometime-in-the-future impact on an actual patient who was suffering from the infectious diseases. Certainly, those questions are incredibly important and worth finding the answers to, but for me, I really wanted to be able to apply my scientific knowledge to problems and come up with some more tangible solutions to things and to actually measure the benefits that you are able to create.

Some of the technology that has been explored more thoroughly is real time PCR. It is a fairly well understood technology from the science realm but from the clinical diagnostic perspective, it is newer. I want to be able to take that basic biology understanding and be able to develop products that will solve a need, which is to diagnose patients who have different infectious diseases. That is something I have a passion for and something I think I am good at.

Monday, August 13, 2012

New 'Product Pipeline' Directory Showcases 72 Products Based on U.Va. Discoveries

University of Virginia Innovation, a University initiative focused on maximizing the impact of U.Va. research discoveries, today unveiled a directory featuring 72 products based on University research.

The "product pipeline" details where these products stand in the development and commercialization process and includes business and consumer products, computer software, medical devices and diagnostics, and therapeutics at various stages of development. Approximately 40 of the products are currently available on the market.

"It's clear from the pipeline that U.Va. researchers are doing incredibly innovative work with applications in a variety of commercial markets," said Michael P. Straightiff, director of the Licensing & Ventures Group. "We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to drive these products – and future collaborations – ahead."

Part of the U.Va. Innovation initiative, the U.Va. Licensing & Ventures Group commercializes University research discoveries through partnerships with industry and entrepreneurial ventures.

"It's important for universities to cultivate a strong pipeline of discoveries, as commercial success for these products can lead to societal benefits, economic development and reinvestment in tomorrow's research breakthroughs," said U.Va. alumnus Robert Paull, co-founder and managing partner of New York-based venture capital firm Lux Capital. "U.Va.'s pipeline is growing increasingly more impressive in both depth and breadth, featuring a large quantity of products with substantial commercial applications."

Considered to be the University's most successful product to date, Adenocard is an injectable drug used to treat cardiac arrhythmia. Developed in 1985 by the late Dr. Robert M. Berne, Adenocard is today found in emergency rooms and ambulances nationwide, with total sales generating approximately $45 million in revenues to U.Va. and the inventors.

Another product family with U.Va. roots has emerged as the standard for accurate mass and high-resolution measurement in mass spectrometry, a technique used to identify molecules within a sample. Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.'s breakthrough Orbitrap technology and several other key products are based on the research of chemist and University Professor Donald F. Hunt and collaborators.

"Don focuses on finding answers to important biological questions, and this drives us to develop innovative tools," said Iain Mylchreest, vice president of research and development for chromatography and mass spectrometry at Thermo Fisher Scientific, a leading provider of analytical instrumentation and lab equipment worldwide. "The resulting techniques benefit broad segments of the life science research community."

View the product pipeline on U.Va. Innovation's website here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

HemoShear rockets to front of commercialization

In taking a big product development risk, Charlottesville-based HemoShear has found a big reward, earning the trust of 10 major pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies.

The Charlottesville Business Innovation Council recently honored HemoShear with the Rocket Award, which recognizes the rapid commercialization of a product or technology.

Local firms Phthisis Diagnostics and WillowTree Apps also were nominated for the award.
Founded in 2008, HemoShear began commercial operations in 2009.

The company was recognized for creating a system that accurately replicates the biology of the body’s organs and disease processes, which in turn, enables better study of pharmaceutical and biotechnology advancements, according to the company’s website.

HemoShear employs 25 people and is currently working with about 10 major pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies. The concept is so new and dynamic that HemoShear is essentially the only firm so far that has been able to take that concept from an idea to commercial viability, according to Nikki Hastings, HemoShear’s vice president of laboratory operations. And they did it in about five years.

“I think they really have come a long way and they’re going to go much further. And I think they’re going to be a real hit out of the biotech arena in Charlottesville,” said Gary Henry, chairman of the CBIC board.

Tracey Danner, the CBIC’s interim director, agreed.

“HemoShear is an excellent example of an innovative startup firm with technology that has the potential to add significant value to the world’s human health care needs, while also contributing to the health of our region’s growing tech-based ecosystem,” Danner said by email.

Starting with a staff of five in 2008, Danner said HemoShear is expected to grow to nearly 40 employees by the end of this year and potentially double that in 2013.

In her capacity as vice president of laboratory operations, Hastings oversees project workflow and efficiency. Hastings credits HemoShear’s quick growth to the ability of the company to provide demonstrated support for what they’re doing, thereby gaining the confidence of major companies.

“We’ve been fortunate in being able to break into that network,” Hastings said. “Many people are surprised that there are 30 biotech companies right here in Charlottesville, and I’ve been really engaged in getting the word out about that and getting students excited about what’s going on locally as a future career.”

By: Nate Delesline III

Hastings' enthusiam for STEM is contagious

As a younger student, Nikki Hastings said she always enjoyed math and science but couldn’t quite connect the dots on how her love for those subjects might translate into a career.

That changed after attending a month-long summer camp that showed students hands-on what they could do with their skills.

“It just takes that one experience to get someone fired up to make them understand,” Hastings said. For today’s students and parents, “I would encourage parents to have their students experience a lot of different things.”

Hastings has led the development of programs to introduce local students to science, technology, engineering and math careers.

For her ongoing efforts, the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council recently honored her with the Community Award. The award recognizes a firm or individual who demonstrates a commitment to improving the quality of life in Central Virginia through community involvement.

Rimm-Kauffman Group and The Gaines Group also were nominated for the award.

Today, Hastings is vice president of laboratory operations at HemoShear, a local biotech firm that develops technology that’s been adopted by major pharmaceutical companies to help them improve the safety and effectiveness of medicines.

Hastings is also chairwoman of VABio’s Charlottesville Regional Council. She also has led efforts to develop local programs to expose students to career possibilities in science, math, engineering and technology. Hastings also serves on the advisory committee for the newly created health and medical sciences academy at Monticello High School, according to a biography provided by the CBIC.

“She’s one of those rare people who has both the energy and the enthusiasm and the devotion to actually make a difference in some kids,” said Gary Henry, chairman of the CBIC board. Henry said the role that people like Hastings play in attracting and retaining student interest in scientific and technical careers shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Nikki’s an inspiration to all of us,” Tracey Danner, the CBIC’s interim executive director, said by email. “Her passion and commitment to help grow and strengthen the base of technology opportunities in the Charlottesville area — for both today’s and tomorrow’s workforce — is making a real difference.”

“She’s in what I consider to be one of our most important societal endeavors,” Henry added. “Providing some feedback to [children] that says, a [science, technology, engineering or math] career is hugely positive and something that’s valuable ... to everyone.”

A native of upstate New York, Hastings came to Charlottesville in 2004 to pursue her doctorate at the University of Virginia.

When she’s not working or promoting the possibilities of science to students, Hastings has played a key role in supporting the local MS Society’s annual Bike MS event.

“I do tend to take on a lot, but when I see what I’ve done in the community it’s really energizing to me in other parts of my life at work,” Hastings said. “I’m always looking for something to be active in,” she said. “There are so many great things going on here.”


First of CBIC's award winners at forefront of new biotech thrust

For starting a local company that’s developed an international footprint and launching a project to redevelop a historic downtown building into a research center, Martin Chapman, founder and CEO of Indoor Biotechnologies, earned the People’s Choice Navigator Award from the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council.

Presented earlier this summer, the award honors significant leadership in the local entrepreneurial or high-tech community. Chapman, who founded the company in 1997, was one of seven firms or individuals to receive honors from the CBIC this year.

Tracey Danner, CBIC’s interim executive director, also was nominated for the award. However, unlike many of CBIC’s other recent honors, the award recipient was based on community-wide online voting. “It’s obviously ... very encouraging,” Chapman said of the recognition from his peers in the innovation sector and the community at-large.

“I think we actually have quite a vibrant community going on here and lots of meeting and social events being set up which tend to get people together and drive a sense of the biotech community development and companies.”

Chapman is a former professor of medicine and microbiology at the University of Virginia and a former member of the UVa Asthma & Allergic Diseases Center. He’s also served as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and other biotech and environmental products companies.

Chapman said that Charlottesville’s broad spectrum attractiveness as a good place to live, work and learn makes his job of sharing the successes of the tech sector easier.

“Because of the quality of life, that’s why we see a lot of companies developing,” he added.
Last year, Chapman and the company announced plans to develop the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Preston Avenue as a bioscience facility called the CityCampus Biotechnology Center.

“Certainly, as far as the CityCampus is concerned ... we’re anticipating if we can get companies moving into the project, [we’ll] have 60 to 70 people working there. It’s certainly one of the things that we’re focusing on and putting a lot of effort in.”

Chapman is also an expert in the fields of allergy and immunology, is chairman of the Virginia Bioscience Foundation and a member of the board of directors of the Virginia Biotechnology Association, according to a biography provided by the CBIC.

Gardy Bloemers served as co-chairwoman of the CBIC gala and has years of experience in the innovation and biotech fields. She said Chapman has always been an inspiration.

“He’s always been on my list of people to meet and ... I’ve been most impressed to learn about what he’s doing with CityCampus. [And] really, he’s got a global businesses that he’s running here from Charlottesville … In many ways, that’s a good thing for everyone,” Bloemers said.
Danner agreed.

“Martin’s leadership nature is gentle yet effective; he’s been a steady force behind the growth of our region’s burgeoning biotech sector. He’s an innovator, an entrepreneur, a friend to biotech and an extraordinary asset to our community,” she said by email.

By: Nate Delesline III 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gov McDonnell on Life Sciences & Job Creation

In a recent Op-Ed on job creation, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell highlighted the importance of the bioscience industry in the commonwealth: Governor McDonnell: "Investing in emerging markets is imperative to sustained economic recovery. Because of the funding approved by Virginia's legislature, we will be launching a new $5 million life-sciences initiative to help research universities around the state conduct targeted, strategic and collaborative life-science research and development. Life sciences are an emerging sector of our economy with enormous growth potential at Virginia Tech and our other research universities. This funding has the potential to put Virginia at the forefront of a rapidly growing industry." Click here for the full article: http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/commentary/wb/309082

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

McDonnell adds $44M in budget amendments

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has added nearly $44 million in amendments to the state budget, including funding for economic development and education initiatives.
McDonnell submitted the amendments before the Friday midnight deadline to make changes to the two-year, $85 billion budget passed by the General Assembly last month, his office said Saturday.
As part of the proposed chan-ges, McDonnell seeks to restore $19.5 million in economic development funding, including money to entice Hollywood to film movies in Virginia and a program designed to lure private capital to life-science research projects at several state-supported universities. Lawmakers had removed about $47 million in economic development funding from McDonnell's original spending plan.

"I believe strongly that Virginia must invest in attracting and retaining private-sector job creators and capital," McDonnell said in a statement.

"This strategic investment in attracting and supporting private-sector job creation is crucial to ensuring that the 250,000 Virginians who are still looking for good-paying jobs to feed their families secure employment in the years ahead."

McDonnell also preserved nearly $881 million in new funding for K-12 and higher education, and also proposed an additional $2.7 million in funding to recruit teachers in science, math and technology disciplines and to fully fund a third-grade reading program.

The Republican governor, at the request of several General Assembly leaders, also proposed an amendment that would treat state legislators and statewide office holders the same as state employees regarding pension plan contributions.

"Similar to requirements passed in 2011 for state employees, this amendment would require elected officials to contribute 5 percent of their income toward their Virginia Retirement System pensions, offset by a 5 percent increase in compensation when constitutionally permitted," McDonnell's office said in a news release.

McDonnell also wants to fund a 3 percent bonus for state employees in November 2012 relying on savings from state agencies by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, and a 2 percent raise for state employees in fiscal year 2014.

To pay for the amendments, the governor is has proposed transferring an unused portion of a previous debt allocation to new capital project, transferring certain year-end balances, and spending cuts.

The General Assembly will reconvene May 14 to take up the governor's amendments.

After voting against the $85 billion budget needed to fund Virginia government three times over the past two months, the state Senate abruptly took up and passed the spending plan last month after Sen. Charles Colgan, a senior Democratic lawmaker from Prince William County broke ranks.

The budget bill remained alive because the special session to act on it was recessed — not adjourned. As the political fallout settled in, the bill was called up for reconsideration in the Senate and, without debate, passed 10 1/2 weeks before the current budget expires June 30.

The spending blueprint for the 24 months beginning July 1 totals nearly $85 billion in combined appropriations, up from about $80.7 billion for the biennium that ends June 30.

By:  The Associated Press

Open Biotech Faculty Position at NVCC

Northern Virginia Community College has a full-time permanent biotechnology faculty position opening at the Manassas Campus.  View the position description here.