Fine Tuning the Fight: Biotech Startups Tackle the COVID 19 Challenge

Kathie Callahan Brady

Frederick, Maryland – Snuggled into the Catoctin Mountains, Frederick, Maryland, captures travel headlines as a destination for its “hipstoric” character, a blend of picturesque architecture and artful vibes enfolded with rich colonial history and a growing reputation as a foodie haven, but something else is happening here. As the world shudders to a halt, trying to stop the deadly spread of COVID-19 infections as if it were an invasion of invisible zombies, Frederick’s biotech startups rev up for the fight.

The town’s location, home to frontline biomedical research at Fort Detrick and easily accessible to major East Coast cities like DC and Baltimore, make it an enclave for scientific enterprise. The Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc., also known as FITCI, presses that advantage. The organization is an incubator and accelerator started with public/private support in 2004, nurturing more than 150 fledgling companies throughout the years. Today, FITCI is recognized as a premier resource for technology and bioscience entrepreneurs because of its in-depth programming, industry-specific mentoring and resource array.

Like businesses across the board, start-ups here are acutely affected by social distancing requirements, especially in active labs, and the need to protect employees while navigating a swiftly changing economy. FITCI’s Strategic Growth and Advisory Board (SGAB), acts as a board of directors for client companies. Successful C-suite executives populate several specialized sessions, readily sharing insight on everything from crafting a corporate culture to hiring a team, through establishing best practices, honing an investors’ pitch or learning when to delegate. The groups’ most pressing issue these days is helping emerging entrepreneurs tame the chaos, turning challenges into opportunities – both to preserve the nascent roots of future industry and economic stability while making a meaningful contribution in the fight against COVID-19.

Here are the companies and their stories: #COVID-19 Startups Tackle COVID-19 – https://www.fitci.org/COVIDPR.html

VIRINTEL, LLC – VirIntel is a diagnostics startup founded in April 2020 in response to the pandemic. The company is developing a serological antibody test for COVID 19 that will tell whether a person was infected with the coronavirus and has gained the immunity as well as will help to evaluate what kind of immunity the person has now. The company hopes that its test will show greater accuracy than current market tests, which often suffer from higher-than-acceptable false negativity/positivity. Learn more

VERALOX Therapeutics – VERALOX Therapeutics is a small-molecule biotech company formed in September 2017. The company initially garnered attention for its first product, VLX-1005, a promising rare blood disorder treatment drug for heparin-induced thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (HITT). With the unexpected danger in COVID-19 infections and increased risk of pulmonary embolism (micro clots in the lungs) the VLX-1005 can be used to turn the activation state of the platelets off. This does not kill platelets, but does prevent them from forming clots. Currently, VERALOX is gathering COVID-19 patient blood samples for testing. Once through GLP toxicology testing, the drug poses promising use as an emergency therapy if a second wave of COVID-19 infection occurs. Learn more

Integrated BioTherapeutics, Inc. – Integrated BioTherapeutics (IBT) is a biotechnology company focused on discovering novel vaccines and therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases. Their two main pipelines are antiviral (filoviruses) and antibacterial (novel vaccines and therapeutics against bacterial infections). In addition, IBT has a CRO division providing discovery services and reagents for pharma/Biotech and academic institutions. Service including in-vitro screening (in-house models for testing whether the virus can be neutralized) and in-vivo models (allows translation of the in-vitro screening to an in-vivo model). Faced with an 80% dip in demand for research tools for universities and industry, they’ve effectively pivoted to offering services for COVID-19 research. Learn more

Velocidy Bio, Inc.– Velocidy Bio delivers solutions that decrease time-to-results for global biological laboratories, often condensing wait time from hours or days into minutes. Along with the company’s Dutch biotech partner, Molecular Biology Systems (MBS), they introduced NEXTGENPCR, a revolutionary new method that decreases testing time for SARS-CoV-2 to eight minutes, compared to current systems that take over an hour. The product has the potential to revolutionize testing capabilities during the pandemic. It could potentially test every employee at nearby Frederick Memorial Hospital every day in about 3 hours. Velocidy Bio is also collaborating with FITCI graduate GM Biosciences on a COVID-19 testing project. Learn more

Danuvius Biosciences– Established in 2020 as a spin‐out of Bioworld Consulting Laboratories, Danuvius Biosciences develops monoclonal antibodies for therapies and diagnostic assays for treatment and diagnosis of multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. Because COVID-19 symptoms are very similar to flu, Danuvius Biosciences decided to adapt its rapid (10 minutes) multiplex diagnostic assay to detect and identify the most common infectious agents associated with respiratory infections. This rapid Point of Care multiplex assay will be able to detect and identify the infectious agent in minutes in physician’s office or hospitals, facilitating correct treatment of patients. Validations for the other infectious agents are also in progress. Learn more

Hawkeye MedTech – Hawkeye MedTech, Inc. created TotalCare, a unique telemedicine platform that lets patients schedule virtual visits with their own healthcare providers. The company started market validation as the COVID-19 crisis began unfolding. The platform lets patients get the care they need from the comfort of their home or office, while adhering to the highest principals of patient privacy and security. Learn more

RebuImmunity, LLC– RebuImmunity, LLC is a small pharmaceutical entity developing recombinant chimeric proteins for clinical drug research and development needs. The company’s patent-pending human-source chimeric protein (BY-001) is a promising novel drug aimed at treating patients with autoimmune diseases. In response COVID-19, RebuImmunity proposed a chimeric protein (RADA2-Fc4) that contains only the certain binding domain of a protein in ACE-2, but does not include catalytic domain of angiotensin II, this structure prevents the protein from interfering with circulating angiotensin II levels. The Fc4 part in this chimeric protein can form a three-part structure, which is necessary for 2019-nCoV binding. Studies show that COVID-19 uses the receptor binding domain (RBD) for its invading cells. In effect, this drug uses existing therapeutic targets as a springboard for the treatment of COVID-19. Learn more

GoFightCOVID.com – The Edge graduate Gary Lopez helms Tiny Code, an emergency communication device that facilitates essential communication during natural disasters, but COVID-19 prompted him to start GoFightCovid, a free delivery platform for those who are most at-risk for contracting the devastating virus. Learn more

CarrTech, LLC – Sue Carr is a graduate of FITCI’s first intensive accelerator series, The Edge. A former pharmacist with 35+ years’ experience, Carr and her partners created a next-generation filtered needle for safer, easier, quicker drug delivery with less medical waste. According to Carr, it is a much-need update to the current, cumbersome 2-needle system which can result in needle-stick and glass shard injuries. Learn more

Poochon Scientific – Poochon Scientific provides mass spectrometry-based protein analysis services and Sanger DNA sequencing services. CEO Jon Hao says he sees a special responsibility to help fight COVID-19. The company helps biomedical research institutions, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies through DNA sequencing and Proteomics solutions. Learn more

Molecular Tools, LLC – Dr. Olena Lar founded Molecular Tools in 2018 with the mission to translate scientific discoveries into easy-to-use standardized tests for biomedical research and clinical diagnostics. Right before the pandemic, Molecular Tools released their first product, an Unconjugated Bilirubin Quantification Kit, designed for easy and direct measurement of unconjugated bilirubin in biological specimens. When the global health emergency put a halt on most research, Dr. Lar joined CianDx- diagnostic lab in Frederick, MD, to support COVID-19 testing. Learn more

StepFusion Solutions – The Tate Home Assistant is StepFusion’s first product line, now in development. It is a series of everyday items with smart sensors to support dementia care at home, in senior-living communities, and in dedicated nursing facilities. The product can determine how the person is doing or feeling, whether they are showing any COVID-19 symptoms. This information is reported to family or care providers immediately, so they can take the appropriate actions. Learn more

Integrated Pharma Services, LLC – Integrated Pharma Services (IPS), is an award-winning Contract Research Organization (CRO) started by Dr. Mina Izadjoo, the company’s president and Chief Science Officer. IPS engages Ph.D. level scientists and skilled technical staff to design, troubleshoot, conduct, analyze, and report scientific data. Recently, IPS received $100K grant from the State of Maryland for manufacturing much-needed surgical masks. IPS tests antiviral properties of new products and devices, including essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and is offering consulting and testing services for COVID diagnostic kits. Learn more

RoosterBio, Inc. – RoosterBio has had a steep trajectory from one-man show to international market disruptor. The company remains laser focused on the rapid commercialization of scalable regenerative cures using human mesenchymal stromal/stem cells (hMSC). RoosterBio’s products and services – mesenchymal cells, bioprocess growth and EV collection media – already changed how companies and institutions produce, consume and use living cells, effectively eliminating the bottlenecks in stem cell accessibility. Exciting news, since clinical research suggests that hMSCs might be helpful against the end stage of severe COVID-19, or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), or to mitigate some of the damaging inflammatory response. Founder Jon A. Rowley, PhD, says that may give patients a fighting chance against severe COVID-19. Learn more

READ more details about each of these companies at https://www.fitci.org/COVIDPR.html