By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
It’s been about six months since we posted an article on local start-up 490 BioTech and its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
When we checked-in with Co-Founder Steven Ripp, he offered a very positive update on both the further development of its technologies as well as its funding profile.
“The last few months have been exciting for 490 BioTech,” he said. “Using the funding from our previous NIH Phase I SBIR award, we’ve been able to engineer significant improvements to our existing product line, and develop two additional cell lines that we’ve identified as highly desirable by the research and pharmaceutical industries.”
Ripp added that 490 BioTech has also “substantially advanced our development of an estrogen sensing human cell line bioassay.”
The NIH award allowed the company to develop a first generation assay to demonstrate feasibility. The award also provided 490 BioTech the tools and capital needed to transition its existing approach into a second generation assay that will soon be ready for commercial use.
“We’ve recently submitted a manuscript detailing our progress, and expect to have it published in the next two months,” Ripp said.
There’s also good news on the funding side.
“Never satisfied with only making incremental improvements, we’re also happy to announce that 490 BioTech has just received a new Phase I SBIR award from the National Science Foundation,” Ripp said.
Work begins this month (NOTE: Will publish in February) on the development of a bioluminescent zebrafish model system. Ripp explained that these novel fish, which will be genetically programed to either produce light continuously or only in response to certain environmental factors, will provide a much needed whole organism screening assay for the pharmaceutical industry.
“Using these fish, companies will be able to test new drug compounds for toxicity cheaply and efficiently but, unlike existing cellular tests, they will also be able to determine what the compounds are doing after they are metabolized by a living system,” he said.
Up to now, this level of detail has never been possible in such an inexpensive and easy to use system, so Ripp and the 490 BioTech team have high hopes that this project can revolutionize the industry.
“It may be the first SBIR ever funded that is applicable to both billion dollar pharmaceutical companies and local pet stores,” Ripp said, adding, “Who wouldn’t want a glowing fish for their home fish tank?”
The start-up has also submitted two new Phase I SBIRs. One was sent to the U. S. Department of Agriculture to use 490 BioTech’s technology for quickly and easily screening food samples for potentially toxic compounds. The second was an additional Phase I SBIR submitted to NIH to develop specially designed drug toxicity screening panels that will reduce laboratory animal usage by growing multiple types of tissues on a specially designed plate and testing them simultaneously to determine both the primary and secondary metabolic effects of novel drug compounds.
The team will also apply soon for a Phase II NIH SBIR to continue development of estrogen detection screening panels as an expansion of its existing Phase I award.
“We’re looking forward to a very busy and very productive 2014,” Ripp says.