RERSEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – On Tuesday, September 12th, Triangle Venture Day: Therapeutics 2023 invited investors from across the country to hear from rising star innovators of the robust therapeutics scene right here in our own backyard.
Jointly organized by Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State University, and NCBiotech, the event brought bright minded, budding academic entrepreneurs together with venture capital investors to showcase our region’s cutting-edge biotech ecosystem and solutions to critical human health challenges. Taken together, their solutions span many fields, from proteomics to hydrogels, infectious disease to RNA therapeutics, rare diseases to oncology.
The day, hosted at Apella by Alexandria at the Alexandria Center for Advanced Technologies campus, proved to be one of promise of the Triangle’s growing innovation ecosystem, optimism for high-impact science, and enthusiasm for local collaboration.
Reactions at Triangle Venture Day to the region’s biotech scene were clear and straightforward: its scientific talent, industry prowess, and cross functional collaboration poise it to be an ever-evolving innovation ecosystem with sweeping economic implications — and it’s being noticed.
With increasing investment in the Triangle, entrepreneurs are deciding to stay, and companies are establishing in places like RTP. Dr. Jason Smith, Managing Director at Longview Innovation, acknowledged that, “the science has always been here,” but there wasn’t always the same opportunity and space to incubate as there is now. He noted that the talent market is getting much better and described the investment space in the Triangle as “sticky” — it’s easier to get local support for a new venture here than in some other biotech hubs.
As the therapeutics industry continues to grow here in North Carolina, there is the promise of a lasting future for an innovation ecosystem that will positively impact the region.
Triangle Venture Day: Therapeutics 2023 hosted over 50 venture capital investors, 24 presenters, and dozens of team members from the hosting institutions and presenting companies all eager to network and forge new connections. With the goal of providing visibility and networking for Triangle innovators, the day was broken into three blocks of presentations and a mix of categories: Lab Spotlights, Pre/Seed Stage Companies, and Series A companies. Each presenter gave a short pitch that highlighted their innovations, the human health challenges they are hoping to overcome, and why their work is the next leap forward in their field.
Throughout the day, whether founders’ work focused on pediatric diseases, like Plakous Therapeutics, or antibiotics, like Synoxa Sciences, they were acutely aware of the needs in their therapeutic space, the human impact at the individual patient scale, and the disease burden on a societal scale. The entrepreneurs radiated a steady optimism as they spoke about their work and their plans for what it will accomplish. For example, CEO of Opus Genetics Dr. Ben Yerxa explained that their gene therapy approach to inherited blindness is unique in the space and that, “if they’re successful, they’ll be able to cure blindness for kids and adults that just happened to get that gene from their parents.”
These changemakers are highly trained, skilled academics, and their optimism is grounded in the science. Dr. Amanda Hargrove of Duke University said, “one of the things they tell you to look for when you’re an academic is an area of great need, of high impact where you can make a unique contribution,” and she saw an opportunity to apply her expertise in molecular recognition to the area of RNA-based medicine. As she puts it, “because RNA is so pervasive and has so many roles and rarely been looked at through [this lens], we have an opportunity in the therapeutics space not just for human genome-related illnesses like cancer, neurological diseases — but infectious agents. We really have the ability to alleviate an enormous amount of human suffering if we can figure out how to do it effectively.” For scientists like Drs. Yerxa and Hargrove, and the other presenters, becoming an entrepreneur was a dedicated step toward moving science out of the lab and into the clinic.
A resounding sentiment from attendees of Triangle Venture Day was enthusiasm for collaboration at multiple scales, such as between investors and entrepreneurs and even among the academic institutions in the Triangle. Dr. Judy Prasad, Assistant Director of KickStart Venture Services at UNC-Chapel Hill, shared that one of the things that makes the Triangle a unique biotech hub is the “three powerhouse research universities that are cooperating with each other.” Prasad highlighted a grant funded by the EDA for having sparked this collaboration between UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, and that initiative eventually expanded to include NC State University and the NC Biotechnology Center.
Truly, one of the things that sets our region apart is the pervasive spirit of partnership and cooperation, and that extends to trends in investing. When four investors spoke on the Triangle Venture Day panel about the models of early-stage biotech VC investing, a key takeaway was a model of advising and partnership. Dr. Phil Grayeski of local investment firm KdT Ventures shared that new business models are starting to emerge in biotech with partner-centric portfolios as compared to historical asset-centric models. Dr. Lazar Bojic of the firm Curie.Bio explained that their approach to investing is to act as advisors to support the scientific expertise of the founders. And as the Triangle’s innovation web is woven with collaboration at every level, the region will foster more and more breakthrough therapeutics that can make it into the hands of patients.
After the presentations concluded, the event closed out at local institution Fullsteam Brewery in its new location in Boxyard RTP, at a happy hour co-hosted by KdT Ventures.
Dr. Jeff Welch, Director of Duke New Ventures, noted the group’s dedication to making change and recognized the next step for action. “Now the hard work starts to follow up and see if we can get the right funding and right people together to capitalize on momentum and get great new enterprises off the ground and running.”
Lasting connections were forged throughout the day, and investors, entrepreneurs, and university staff will continue to collaborate on inspired ideas to radically advance therapeutics and a shared hope for a transformative innovation hub in the Triangle.
Triangle Venture Day: Therapeutics 2023 featured 24 presenters.
Pranam Chatterjee (Duke)
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering – Duke University
The Chatterjee Lab creates protein-based platforms to engineer biology in a user-defined way
Yev Brudno (NCSU)
Associate Professor – UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University
The Brudno Lab at UNC and NC State is commercializing technologies to revolutionize how cellular therapy is produced and delivered.
Juliane Nguyen (UNC)
Professor and Vice Chair – UNC-Chapel Hill
The Nguyen Lab develops personalized biotherapeutics for cancer, myocardial infarction, colitis, and other diseases by merging cutting-edge molecular engineering with pharmaceutical sciences and bioinformatics.
Donald Freytes (NCSU)
Associate Professor – UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University
The Freytes Lab is dedicated to developing and evaluating bioengineered tissues utilizing pluripotent stem cells and specific extracellular matrix scaffolds.
Aravind Asokan (Duke)
Professor of Surgery, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, Biomedical Engineering – Duke University
The Asokan Lab studies and engineers biological macromolecules and viruses for human gene therapy.
Enzerna Biosciences (UNC)
Enzerna Biosciences, Inc. is a pre-clinical stage company that is leveraging its proprietary RNA editing technology to develop long-term curative gene therapies for rare genetic disorders
Collier NewCo (Duke)
Joel Collier – Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University
The Collier Lab is spinning out a company to design new immunologically active nanomaterial platforms for treatment of a range of diseases and conditions.
FLAG Therapeutics (NCBC)
FLAG Therapeutics, Inc. is a near-term clinical stage company targeting difficult-to-treat cancers that represent significant unmet medical needs in both adults and children.
Synoxa Sciences (NCSU)
Synoxa Sciences, Inc is a discovery stage company working to treat multi-drug resistant and tolerant bacterial infections.
Plakous Therapeutics (NCBC)
Plakous Therapeutics is a pre-clinical stage biotechnology company with a mission to change the outcome for all babies at risk for Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC).
Hargrove Newco (Duke)
Amanda Hargrove – Professor of Chemistry, Duke University
The Hargrove Lab is spinning out a company focused on developing small molecule inhibitors that directly interact with various RNAs of interest.
SelSym Biotech (NCSU)
SelSym Biotech is a preclinical-stage biotechnology company working to revolutionize hemorrhage control and wound care through the development of novel synthetic platelet technologies.
Glycan Therapeutics (UNC)
Glycan Therapeutics uses a unique, patented technology from UNC-Chapel Hill to synthesize glycan oligosaccharides for therapeutic development, as well as offer a catalog of oligosaccharide reagents and analytical glycan services.
TregTherapeutics Inc owns the exclusive license to an industry-disruptive platform designed to defeat autoimmune disease.
DelAQUA Pharmaceuticals (UNC)
DelAQUA is a specialty pharmaceutical company that has developed a transformative drug formulation platform.
Lucidigm Therapeutics (Duke)
Lucidigm Therapeutics is a preclinical-stage immunotherapy company developing innovative immunomodulatory biologics.
AccuNovo Biotechnologies (UNC)
AccuNovo Biotechnologies, Inc. is developing next-generation imaging-guided precision radiopharmaceuticals for the treatment of solid tumors.
RNA 2.0 (UNC)
Kevin Weeks – Kenan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, UNC-Chapel Hill
The Weeks Lab is spinning out a company developing “RNA 2.0” technologies that make possible diverse new opportunities in basic science discovery and in translational biotechnology.
Belhaven Biopharma is developing dry powder nasal products as alternatives to traditional intramuscular injections in the emergency use setting.
MAA Laboratories (NCSU)
MAA Laboratories is a specialty pharmaceutical company that develops innovative drugs using its proprietary NanoContTM platform technology.
Opus Genetics (NCBC)
Opus Genetics is a clinical-staged groundbreaking gene therapy company focused on inherited retinal diseases with a unique model and purpose.
IMMvention Therapeutix (UNC)
IMMvention is a therapeutics company developing transformative oral first/best-in-therapies for high unmet needs of patients with blood disorders and neuroinflammatory diseases.
Ancilia Biosciences (NCSU)
Ancilia is an early-stage biotech company developing a new class of live biotherapeutics and other bacterial products with engineered immunity against destructive viruses.
Tellus Therapeutics (Duke)
Tellus Therapeutics is a neonatal care company developing safe and effective interventions for unmet needs of newborns.
Interested in learning more about these Triangle Venture Day companies or other companies in the UNC-Chapel Hill KickStart, Duke New Ventures, NC State University, and NC Biotechnology Center portfolios? Please contact Mireya McKee at firstname.lastname@example.org, Jeff Welch at email@example.com, Tim Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jason Doherty at email@example.com.
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