20 Oct IU Ventures uses recent investments to drive life sciences innovation in Indiana, Midwest
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 20, 2022
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Through several major investments in promising medical and health care startups, IU Ventures, Indiana University’s early-stage venture and angel investment arm, is helping to accelerate innovation in the life sciences in Indiana and the surrounding region.
IU Ventures’ investment “portfolio” has recently expanded to include nine Indiana- or Midwestern-based life sciences companies with strong connections to the IU School of Medicine, the nation’s largest medical school. To date, IU Ventures has made investments ranging from $125,000 to $1 million in these emerging, high-potential companies, several of which are based on IU intellectual property licensed by the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office. These companies have made new and notable progress in developing promising treatments, tests and therapies for a wide range of diseases and disorders, including, among others, arterial hypertension, autism, cancer, diabetes, fragile X syndrome, human papillomavirus infection and hypoparathyroidism.
“Indiana and states across the Midwest are making major advancements in the life sciences and in medical innovation, thanks, in large measure, to the continued efforts of mission-oriented organizations like IU Ventures to invest in new companies founded by university-affiliated researchers and to help them deliver impact on their discoveries,” said IU Ventures Managing Director Teri Willey. “The emerging companies we are supporting through financial investment and other resources have not only demonstrated the commercial potential of their research, but also a determination to drive the development of the life sciences industry here in the Midwest and address some of the most pressing public health challenges facing our society.”
A Code Section 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering innovation led by IU faculty, students, alumni and friends, IU Ventures has invested in new medical ventures through its main investment programs, which include the Innovate Indiana Fund, which was established in 2010 and is now fully invested, the IU Angel Network and the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund. The latter initiative was established in 2018 to help IU achieve its mission of building a prosperous and innovative Indiana. It started with $11 million under management and now has more than $16 million to support IU founders from. the IU School of Medicine and across the university’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“Our goal is to do impactful research that goes beyond just journal articles. Venture investment enables IU School of Medicine and our partners to speed the translation of scientific discoveries into products with clinical application, where they will help patients in Indiana and far beyond,” said Dr. Jay L. Hess, dean of the IU School of Medicine and IU’s executive vice president for university clinical affairs. “What better environment to provide learners than these first-rate conditions for research innovation, as well as access to business advisors and funding mechanisms for our researchers.”
Companies frequently use venture investment to pay for clinical trials and to test and develop new prototypes. These activities are reflected in the ongoing efforts of IU School of Medicine-related companies in the IU Ventures portfolio, which are listed below along with brief information on their recent achievements.
The companies include:
Allinaire Therapeutics is a Cleveland-based developer of novel therapeutics for cardiopulmonary diseases built upon the research of its two scientific founders, Dr. Matthias Clauss, a senior research professor of cellular and integrative physiology and microbiology and immunology at the IU School of Medicine, and Dr. Irina Petrache, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health and former professor at the IU School of Medicine. IU Ventures has invested $125,000 in the company through the Innovate Indiana Fund. Allinaire recently announced a strategic partnership with Chiesi, an international research-focused pharmaceutical and healthcare group, to advance research into the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare pulmonary condition causing high blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs, leading to heart failure.
Amplified Sciences is an in-vitro diagnostic company focused on early detection and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with research and development operations in West Lafayette, Ind. Amplified Sciences commercializes the innovation of Dr. V. Jo Davisson, an IU School of Medicine biochemistry graduate and longtime biochemist at Purdue University, where he invented the technology that Amplified Sciences is developing. Davisson is now the company’s co-founder and chief scientific officer. The company’s co-founder and CEO is Diana Caldwell, an IU Kelley School of Business alumna, who was an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Purdue Foundry when she and Davisson met. Caldwell is also a member of the industry advisory board of the Kelley School’s Center for the Business of Life Sciences. Dr. Mohammad Al-Haddad, a professor at the IU School of Medicine who has researched and published on the pancreas for years, is a clinical advisor for the company. Last year, Amplifed Sciences was named one of the top 16 “Most Fundable Companies” in the nation by the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. The company is the first-ever company to receive a double investment through IU Ventures’ startup investment ecosystem, receiving separate $125,000 investments through the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund and the IU Angel Network.
Apexian Pharmaceuticals is an Indianapolis-based biotechnology company led by Dr. Mark R. Kelley, the Betty and Earl Herr Professor of Pediatric Oncology Research at the IU School of Medicine. In 2021, the company received a $100,000 follow-on investment from IU Ventures to continue its focus on developing therapeutic agents to treat cancer and several other life-threatening diseases. Apexian has a licensing partnership — and a Phase II clinical trial underway — with NASDAQ-listed Ocuphire Pharma (OCUP). This partnership could be transformative for patients enduring diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema, which are historically treated via injections to the eye.
Confluence Pharmaceuticals is a neuroscience company, headquartered in Carmel, Ind., developing therapies for fragile X syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. IU Ventures has made investments totaling $500,000 in the company, which is based on the discoveries of former IU School of Medicine faculty member Dr. Craig Erickson, a leading expert in fragile X syndrome, Confluence’s lead scientific advisor and chief of the Fragile X Syndrome Research and Treatment Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Confluence is led by president and co-founder Steve Johns, who received a master’s degree from the IU Kelley School of Business. Confluence chairman and co-founder Boyd Sturdevant Jr. also is an IU alumnus. Confluence is using its investments from IU Ventures and other major venture capital funds to advance Phase II clinical trials for its treatment of fragile X syndrome. It is also seeking to develop drugs and therapies for autism spectrum disorder and other similarly anchored neurological conditions.
Kovina Therapeutics is a preclinical biotechnology startup based in Indianapolis developing first-in-class antiviral therapeutics specifically designed to treat cancers and premalignant infections caused by human papillomavirus. Kovina was founded in 2020 by Dr. Elliot Androphy, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at the IU School of Medicine; Dr. Samy Meroueh, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine, and Dr. Zhijian Lu, a medicinal chemist and experienced pharmaceutical professional. The founders, who began collaborating in 2017, have produced compounds that selectively target and kill HPV-infected cells. IU Ventures contributed $100,000 to Kovina’s successful seed round, which it closed last year. Kovina was also recently awarded a second major grant from the National Institutes of Health to advance the development of its HPV therapies.
MBX Biosciences is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company, headquartered in Carmel, Ind., creating therapies to treat rare endocrine diseases where there is no adequate treatment available. IU Ventures has invested a total of $1 million in MBX, which was founded by IU Bloomington Distinguished Professor Richard DiMarchi, who is an internationally recognized expert in peptide chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology, IUPUI alumnus Kent Hawryluk and Tim Knickerbocker. MBX recently announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Orphan Drug designation to its lead therapeutic product candidate, MBX 2109, for the treatment of hypoparathyroidism. The company, which is strengthened by world-class proprietary technology and drug candidates licensed from the DiMarchi Research Group at IU, also continues to advance its first clinical trial of MBX 2109. Members of MBX’s leadership team previously collaborated in the creation of highly successful endocrine drugs (Humalog®, Forteo®) and three Indiana-based companies (Marcadia, Calibrium and MB2).
NERx Biosciences is an early-stage biotechnology company, headquartered in Indianapolis, focused on the development of targeted therapeutics for the treatment of cancer. These potential therapeutics, which target the DNA damage response pathway, are based on the science of Dr. John Turchi, Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation Professor of Lung Cancer Research at the IU School of Medicine. IU Ventures has invested $600,000 in the company, which recently presented two pre-clinical pipeline drugs that may have a broad impact on curing two of the most common and deadly cancers — lung and breast – at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting.
Probari is an Indianapolis-based startup committed to improving the overall health care experience of residents at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The company is led by founder and CEO Dr. Kathleen Unroe, an associate professor at the IU School of Medicine and a research scientist at the IU Center for Aging Research at Regenstrief Institute. IU Ventures has invested $150,000 in Probari, which recently received additional investment from Elevate Ventures of Indianapolis by winning one of the firm’s regional pitch competitions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Probari formed a partnership with the Indiana State Department of Health to provide training and support to more than 500 nursing homes across the state.
Vascugen is a regenerative medicine company focused on finding therapies to repair human tissue damaged by reduced blood flow due to disease or injury. The company, which is located in Wisconsin, is based on a broad suite of technologies developed in the laboratory of its scientific founder, Dr. Mervin C. Yoder, distinguished professor emeritus at the IU School of Medicine and director emeritus of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering. The Yoder lab was the first to discover rare cells that are responsible for the formation of new blood vessels in the body and to then develop methods for manufacturing those cells. IU Ventures has invested $200,000 in Vascugen, which continues to refine and scale its processes to produce a clinical-grade product, while also increasing its pharmaceutical partnerships. The company has received additional investment from other Indiana-based investors, including Cook Regentec of Bloomington, Ind., and Indianapolis entrepreneur Dr. Donald Brown.
About IU Ventures:
IU Ventures invests in and supports IU-affiliated early-stage companies. Its investment programs include the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, IU Angel Network, Shoebox Fund and Innovate Indiana Fund. It further supports IU founders through the Executive in Residence Program and IU Founders and Funders Network. Student support is provided through a variety of engagements, including the new IU Venture Fellows Program. Each program takes unique approaches to accelerate and support the positive impacts that entrepreneurs affiliated with IU already achieve across the world. IU Ventures is a recognized leader in increasing opportunities for diverse and historically underserved entrepreneurs and investing in Indiana startups with a shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.