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July 29, 2013 | Tom Ballard

UT’s Ed Chaum making a difference in East Tennessee from 400 miles away

Ed ChaumEdward Chaum is a distinguished and prolific researcher at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), an entity about 400 miles from Knoxville.

As such, you would think much of his work would not intersect with this region, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many of Chaum’s activities involve relationships that he has built and continues to build with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a process that started in 2004.

We caught-up with Chaum recently to get an update on his entrepreneurial endeavors, all drawing on his work in eye diseases and treatments. The focus is a natural for the Plough Foundation Professor of Retinal Diseases and Director of the Retina Service at the Hamilton Eye Institute at UTHSC.

As you might expect, the effort that is most developed is also the oldest – Hubble Telemedical, a company actually headquartered in Knoxville with ties to both UTHSC and ORNL. Chaum, however, noted that he is also making good progress on a second venture – Nanophthalmics, a company focused on enhanced healing of the eye caused by abrasions, erosions, and diseases through use of some research at ORNL.

“Hubble is generating good traction,” Chaum said. “We have numerous new business channels across the state and country. We were just informed we will be receiving a two-year, $450,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the fall.”

This start-up provides remote services to screen for the leading causes of blindness throughout the world – diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and glaucoma – as well as systemic diseases that manifest in the retina, such as cardiovascular disease

Hubble came out of a 2004 visit that involved a handful of UTHSC faculty exploring opportunities at ORNL. Chaum met Ken Tobin, an ORNL Corporate Fellow and Division Director, and the duo quickly saw a way to leverage each other’s work to found Hubble.

Chaum serves as Hubble’s Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer, while Tobin is also a Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer. Chuck Witkowski, a well-known Knoxville entrepreneur, came on board about a year ago as President and Chief Executive Officer.

Nanophthalmics is a start-up that participated in the 2012 “Zero to 510” accelerator in Memphis. While it is much newer than Hubble, Chaum is equally optimistic about its progress to date.

The company employs novel surgical devices, techniques, and materials to improve current treatment outcomes for ophthalmic and other microsurgical diseases. Its first commercial device will be a disposable, corneal micro-punch that enhances healing of abrasions, recurrent erosions, and other corneal diseases by modifying tissue attachments at a cellular level.

“We have recently started our clinical trial,” says Chaum, who serves as Nanophthalmics’ Chief Medical Officer.  He adds the company is meeting with its manufacturing partner, working to convert a license option to a full agreement, and exploring an SBIR application.

“We think a commercial launch is likely in 2014 Q2,” Chaum says.

Chaum also has a third company – Infusense – that is focused on commercializing a new platform for real-time measurement of blood levels of the surgical anesthesia agent propofol.  The newest start-up recently licensed technology from UT’s Research Foundation and the University of Memphis.

“Infusense is two months into an SBIR from the Army,” Chaum said. His strategy for the company involves more SBIR submissions and a planned prototype that will allow Infusense to submit a 510K application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this year.

Even as he pursues three separate companies, Chaum also is exploring new collaborations with ORNL, a fact that proves distance is not an inhibitor for the entrepreneurially-driven researcher.

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