New year brings many changes for newly renamed local start-up Liora

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

A start-up that we spotlighted a little more than a year ago in this teknovation.biz article has a new name with a new and expanded location, a slightly altered initial focus, and an internationally recognized expert who has joined the effort.

For Founder Michelle French, the newly renamed venture – Liora LLC (previously known as ZoeVET) – was her third company, coming on the heels of exiting Animal Element Inc., an enterprise she founded in 2008.

As the old saying goes, “What a difference a year makes.” French reviewed those developments with us in a recent interview.

The first order of business is to brand Liora. She says it checks several boxes. For starters, it does not connote veterinary services, something that the original name ZoeVET did. “It allows for an expansion into other cutting-edge veterinary technology for tissue healing in the future if we want to do so,” French explained. “I wanted a name that was easy to say, able to be remembered, and have long-term relevance.”

To achieve that goal, French discussed her rebranding and long-term vision with Cymbeline (Bem) Culiat, her Co-Founder and Chief Science Advisor, who suggested Liora, the Hebrew word for “My Light.”

Liora will represent the company’s goal and lead the way in the field of veterinary regenerative medicine. Liora is also an equivalent name for “Lucy,” a character in The Chronicles of Narnia, the famous children’s book by C.S. Lewis. Lucy had a healing potion that treated her friends’ life-threatening battle injuries.

French says she immediately liked the meaning and substance of the word. “Your name has power,” she says. The company secured two URLs for the new name. They are www.liora.global and www.liora.us.

The new brand also comes with a slight shift in the initial focus of the start-up. While the target market is still treating debilitating limb injuries in high-performance horses, the first product priority has changed to tendinitis instead of laminitis. This strategy allows a quicker route to market because the former is a localized injection while the latter may require a sizeable whole-body dose or a new drug delivery system to the laminae in the horse hoof.

Sustained delivery requirements, R&D costs, and regulatory path challenges led French to focus first on tendinitis and tackle the laminitis problem later – likely post-revenue stage. That said, Liora will still be using the novel signaling regenerative protein called NV1 that is the basis of another local start-up – NellOne Therapeutics Inc., co-founded by Culiat and led by Chief Executive Officer Bill Malkes. The focus of NellOne is the human market.

According to French, the key is market placement and revenue. A tendon therapeutic will have a quicker market launch. “There is not a therapeutic with efficacy for tendon repair,” she says. “In studies, we have reviewed, Stem cell or PRP (Platelet-rich plasma) injections have not shown real efficacy in healing the injured tendon.”

For those in the horse industry, tendon injuries are a significant financial issue. It is not “If,” but “When” the horse will have a tendon injury. “Forty-six percent of all performance horses are afflicted with tendon issues,”  French says. “Every boarding facility across the U.S. will have at least one horse afflicted with a tendon problem.”

Liora recently landed an international superstar as its Chief Veterinary Officer. Jim Schumacher, Professor Emeritus at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s (UTK) College of Veterinary Medicine, joined the company in November 2020. Among his many recognitions are being a Diplomat in the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

“This man is highly decorated, global, and humble,” French said, citing his 100-page vita and experience teaching in 20 countries. He was also part of the UTK team many years ago that conducted the wound study with Culiat. Using the new, patent-protected shorter form NV1 on wounds against the full-length NELL1 protein on horses, French says Schumacher was able to see firsthand what an exciting product the NV1 could be for the veterinary industry.”

Finally, Liora recently relocated to the Fairview Technology Center, operated by The Development Corporation of Knox County, where she has an office, conference, and lab space. “We are excited to be part of this innovative start-up opportunity in Knox County,” French says.

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