By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
It was a fascinating 18-hour period, starting with the real-life story of a father’s quest to find a drug to extend the lives of two of his children, and ending with four entrepreneurial teams pitching their technology ideas.
The event was the annual meeting of Life Sciences Tennessee in Nashville. For the first time ever, it was being held in conjunction with the “Academic Drug Discovery Conference” hosted by Vanderbilt University.
During the opening reception Wednesday night, John Crowley, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Amicus Therapeutics, Inc., captivated a large crowd with the heart wrenching story of his multi-year pursuit for a cure for Pompe disease, a severe and often fatal neuromuscular disorder that afflicted two of his children more than a decade ago when one was less than two years old and the other seven weeks old.
As Crowley told the audience, he and his wife became so frustrated with the slow pace of research on Pompe’s disease that he quit his job at Bristol-Myers Squibb in early 2000 and joined Novazyme Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company conducting research on a new experimental treatment for the disease.
Some three years later, the Crowley children received the enzyme replacement therapy developed by their father’s company, something that he says saved their lives.
The Crowley story was captured in “Extraordinary Measures,” a 2010 motion picture starring Brendan Fraser as Crowley, Keri Russell as Aileen Crowley, and Harrison Ford as Dr. Robert Stonehill, a composite of the various researchers who worked on the eventual treatment.
“How special it is to be an entrepreneur and a dad,” Crowley told the unusually quiet crowd for a reception. “What this industry (life sciences or biotechnology) is all about is hope . . . and the confidence that we can deliver.”
During the second annual “Venture Forum” yesterday morning, five entrepreneurs pitched their life science companies to a panel of venture capitalists who heard their presentations, asked questions, and ultimately ranked the morning’s presentations.
The judges included former Life Science Tennessee Chair Joe Cook, Jr. of Mountain Capital Group; Brian Laden of TriStar Technology Ventures; John LaMattina of PureTech Ventures; Gary Stevenson of MB Venture Partners; and Ken Woody of Innova Memphis.
The highest ranked start-up was Mobilizer, a Memphis-based company with a tagline of “Ambulation Made Simple.” The company has developed a single platform that holds all necessary equipment for a patient who needs to move around (i.e., be ambulatory) in a hospital.
Second place went to Renewable Algal Energy (RAE) of Johnson City. It has a patented platform technology to produce algal oil at a price competitive with other vegetable oils as well as an ability to produce products for the human and animal nutrition markets. (EDITOR’S NOTE: We have previously spotlighted RAE. You can read the story here.)
Third place went to View Medical, another Memphis company providing surgeons with a simple, high quality illumination source for deep cavity surgical procedures.
Based on their rankings, the three companies were able to select one start-up business service from a list of three. They services included an intellectual property consulting package from Waddey & Patterson, a half-day valuated consulting from Kraft Analytics, and office space for a year at Memphis Bioworks.
In addition to these presentations, the “Venture Forum” also featured an update from Vidham Agrawal, CEO of Urova Medical, the top-rated start-up in the 2012 presentations.
The annual meeting wraps-up later today.