By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology
St. Louis-based Gateway Biotechnology is developing drugs for noise induced hearing loss and a debilitating condition called tinnitus, commonly referred to as ringing in the ears. The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis academic spinoff launched at BioGenerator, the investment arm of BioSTL.
“The whole idea is to drive business through this lab, and then ultimately from there, with the help of other venture capitalists, out into the marketplace,” explained Harry Arader, the director of entrepreneur development at BioGenerator.
KaloCyte is another Washington University School of Medicine academic spinoff that launched at BioGenerator. This company is developing artificial red blood cells, which is critical for a life-saving alternative to a blood transfusion after traumatic injuries before patients arrive to a hospital.
The pursuit of drugs to combat hearing loss and the pursuit for artificial blood gained considerable interest from the U.S. military and millions in grants. KaloCyte received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and recently Gateway Biotechnology received funding from the Department of the Army.
“A 10 million dollar grant,” said Tom Brutnell, vice president of Gateway Biotechnology. “WashU is the primary lead on that grant because it involves surgery.”
Recent achievements by startups have paved the way for a new not-for-profit program. BioGenerator launched the Center for Defense Medicine with a grant from the U.S Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“We won $1.5 million over the next three years from the federal government to be matched by $1.8 million, at least, from the local community. So that’s a minimum of $3.3 million that we’ll have to spend over the next three years,” said Arader.
Program funding will help startups develop innovative solutions to meet the needs of U.S. military and security forces. Arader said he’s leveraging the city’s strengths as a global center for bioscience research, as St. Louis has a wealth of military-relevant medical technologies.
“So the role for the Center of Defense Medicine is to provide advice to academics and to early stage companies so they can begin to crack that culture and begin to develop those relationships with potential champions inside the Department of Defense,” said Arader.
When soldiers are in harms way, the U.S. Department of Defense has its own medical needs. Arader explained the DOD has programs to find and support projects that will serve the needs of the warfighter.
“They want to really know they are working with a company and a community that can meet all the needs of ultimately being a supplier,” said Arader.
The Center of Defense Medicine’s team of advisors will help attract and build companies that can support defense-related innovation.
After receiving the Department of the Army grant, Gateway Biotechnology now has monthly phone calls with U.S. Army.
“We start to hear what’s really interesting for them,” said Brutnell. “They really want a therapy (for hearing loss and tinnitus). They want something that they can deliver in the battlefield when a soldier suffers some acute trauma to the ear- a blast, a gunshot – whatever it is, they want a therapy they can deliver immediately to that soldier to help prevent any additional damage to hearing.”
KaloCyte is developing artificial red blood cell technology. The company is receiving considerable support as the infusions would treat blood loss in the battlefield.
But before the BioGenerator created the Center for Defense Medicine, KaloCyte relocated to Baltimore. Arader said the center will help grow and keep companies in St. Louis.
“I was just determined that we weren’t going to lose another great company, and that’s one of the reasons why I created this center, so that we could give people a much stronger argument for remaining in St. Louis.”