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May 02, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Nano Oncology Solutions wins joint pitch finale

Last week's competition brought down the curtain on the first-ever combined BioTN “Scipreneur Challenge” and TennSMART “Smart Mobility Challenge.”

Nano Oncology Solutions Inc., a nanoparticle drug formulation for breast cancer treatment, won the joint finale of BioTN’s “Scipreneur Challenge” and TennSMART’s “Smart Mobility Challenge” last week.

The event, which convened life science and mobility leaders, university partners, and entrepreneurs at Baker Donelson in Nashville and virtually across the state, was the culmination of a 10-week entrepreneurship education program presented by the two organizations.

Four teams of students and entrepreneurs pitched mock businesses based on intellectual property from Tennessee’s leading research institutions. In both Challenges, participants created a business plan by researching the market, developing a plan for commercialization, and making a pitch for mock investment and continued research.

The overall program was facilitated by Bryan Barringer who noted that each participant spent a total of 50 hours over the course of the program developing their businesses, which averages out to one week in the life of a real-world founder.

A panel of industry experts and investors (pictured at the front table) judged the pitches. They were Kayla Graff, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SweetBio; Phillip Wade, Director of Innovation and Solutions Development at Bridgestone Americas; Brian Laden, President and CEO of Appello Pharmaceuticals; Steven King, Director of BioTN’s Life Science Mentor Network; and Scott Rader, Principal and Senior Vice President of Solas Bioventures.

Nano Oncology Solutions, based on a technology from a partnership between Cumberland Emerging Technologies and Auburn University, is a nanoparticle drug formulation. Team members included Ugur Yurtsever, who holds a Ph.D. in neurosciences and an M.S. in molecular biology and genetics; Angelita Crawford, who holds an MBA and a B.S. in biomedical engineering; and Diana Sa Da Bandiera, who holds a Ph.D. in regenerative medicine and an M.S. in molecular medicine.

Specifically, the company would formulate a drug to treat breast cancer by combining Disulfiram, a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug used to treat alcohol dependence, with copper. Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S. The formulated drug is very low cost, has minimal side effects, and can be combined with chemotherapy and other drugs to increase the life expectancy of patients.

Other participants were:

  • Tamp-It, a technology based on a tamper-aware, anti-counterfeiting container developed by researchers at Vanderbilt University. The company developed a patent-pending shipping box to protect critical products at risk for counterfeit tampering, such as pharmaceutical products and automotive parts. Pressurized sensors can detect if the box has been opened or tampered with at any point along the delivery chain. Custom software was also developed and integrated into a phone app for easy field communication. Team members were Justin Huff, entrepreneur and Director of Operations at Positive Energy Charging Systems, and Brooke Byrne, bioengineering student at Vanderbilt University.
  • Carcinolytics, a technology licensed from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was transformed by Carcinolytics into a cancer diagnostics company to predict which patients will be resistant to chemotherapy. There is no clear diagnostic available to determine chemo-resistance, despite being linked to 80-90 percent of cancer-related deaths. This diagnostic, based on a LAMP-1 protein cell expression and assay, would allow for early identification, which could save weeks of unnecessary treatment and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in in patient costs. Moreover, it could all be done in a normal lab setting. Team members are Matthew Dungan, Ph.D. student from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Shannon Taylor, graduate student in biomedical engineering at the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering.
  • EV Shield is an electromagnetic shielding technology developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Lab that has been transformed into a solution for wireless electric vehicle (EV) Currently, most consumer EVs take at least 30 minutes to charge fully, and the need for permanent charging stations creates infrastructure challenges for providers and utilities and grid operators. Using a high-permeability magnetic material that is compatible with bipolar charging pads, EV Shield could charge a consumer vehicle in less than 15 minutes with no energy loss or risk of electrocution. With the EV market expected to reach $1.87 trillion by 2030, the opportunity is enormous. The founder and CEO is Juliana Yang, an NSF I-Corps alumna who is a graduate student and researcher in the Bioinspired Materials and Surfaces Lab at Vanderbilt University.

Members from each of the formed teams expressed interest in working with the IP holders to move their business concepts to the next stage toward market launch in the foreseeable future. BioTN and TennSMART, in coordination with the respective research entities for the selected intellectual property, will continue to support these teams and help pave a path for transfer of these compelling technologies from the lab to the open market.

The final pitch event was sponsored by Baker Donelson, Vanderbilt University Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization, and Launch Tennessee. The teams won a total of $5,000 in cash prizes from sponsors Vanderbilt CTTC and LaunchTN.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Sara Pruneski of Hall Strategies for her contributions to the article.)

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