ACTSI-supported Start-up Companies
Created in 2007 as one of a national consortium striving to improve the way biomedical research is conducted across the country, the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute (ACTSI) works to break down obstacles in the translational science pipeline, from laboratory to patient care. The consortium, funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA), shares a common vision to translate laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, engage communities in clinical research efforts, and train the next generation of clinical investigators.
ACTSI resources offer funding for start-up research projects, better access to analytical tools, and education and training to clinical and translational investigators. The ACTSI provides the infrastructure and programmatic foundation to rapidly identify and invest in promising technologies and enhance collaborative opportunities among translational investigators and industry partners. A goal of the ACTSI is to catalyze development, validation, and commercialization of translational technologies. Through this mechanism, four companies used ACTSI support to launch and begin reaching patients.
The ACTSI's Research Technologies program is a long-time supporter of the Capstone Senior Design Course at Georgia Institute of Technology. The course provides students the opportunity to work in teams to design, build, and test prototypes with real world applications. This year, ACTSI support reached Team SonoFAST. This technology, a single-use probe attachment that consolidates the multiple steps of an ultrasound exam, won first place as the People’s Choice Interdisciplinary winner at the 2014 Capstone Design Expo. And they did not stop there – they went on to the Georgia Tech Venture Lab and then started a device company. SonoFAST creates an easy, one-step process that merges the sterilization of the probe, the application of the gel, and the cleaning of the device into a product that can be directly placed on the probe and easily removed after the exam. The team is comprised of Stephanie Camstra (Mechanical Engineering), Gabriela Lamas (Biomedical Engineering), Jorge Mena (Biomedical Engineering), and Keller Tomassi (Mechanical Engineering), four recent graduates of Georgia Tech. The device’s conductive polymer technology allows for optimal ultrasound image quality – consistent, bright, and sharp – while remaining residue-free when gliding across the patient’s skin, even coming in various sizes to fit different probes to decrease the need for additional training. The use of this seamless technology ensures optimal cleanliness, while eliminating the risk of cross-contamination. The SonoFAST pad’s revolutionary ultrasound design will increase patient satisfaction, providing a clean and comfortable alternative to current ultrasound gel. Read more about other ACTSI-supported Capstone Design Projects.
Michael Benatar, MD, PhD, (former Associate Professor of Neurology and Epidemiology at Emory University), is one of the co-principal investigators for a treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) through the CytRx Corporation, a Los Angeles based biopharmaceutical company engaged in the development and commercialization of human therapeutics. Phase IIa of Benatar’s project, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Arimoclomal in SOD1 Positive Familial ALS (fALS), especially focused on decreasing the disease’s rate of progression, is supported through ACTSI’s Clinical Research Network (CRN), Biostatistics, Epidemiology, & Research Design (BERD), and Biomedical Informatics Program (BIP). Benatar focused on the study of pre-familial ALS before this, a longitudinal study that hoped to improve the understanding of the pre-symptomatic phase of fALS. This ACTSI-sponsored startup produced arimoclomol, an oral drug intended for those with said diagnosed fALS. Under conditions of excessive stress, the drug should induce the amplification of the cytoprotective heat shock response in order to protect motor neurons from death. A phase II/III clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of arimoclomol in fALS patients with placebo versus oral doses of either 25, 50, or 100mg three times daily for twelve weeks is currently ongoing.
Stephen Traynelis, PhD, current professor of pharmacology at Emory University School of Medicine and ACTSI investigator, co-founded the NeurOp Corporation, a preclinical stage pharmaceutical company specializing in the treatment of central nervous system diseases, incorporated in 2002 and based in Atlanta, GA. Traynelis’ research focuses on identifying new modulators that can be used to treat neurological diseases, studying glutamate receptors with an emphasis on the structural and functional properties of receptors involved in synaptic transmission. Traynelis received a Pilot Grant from the ACTSI to study the, Role of NMDA receptors in motor learning in humans recovering from stroke and brain injury. “The grant played a part in our program to develop sub-unit selective potentiators of NMDA receptors, and it is this program that is the primary focus of our collaboration with NeurOp,” said Traynelis. The company recently announced that Bristol-Myers Squibb, the company to whom their technology is licensed, has selected an NR2B-specific-N-methyl-D-asparate (NMDA) receptor modulator as a drug development candidate for major depressive disorder (MDD). The compound can now advance into pre-Investigational New Drug studies.
Virtually Better, Inc.
Page Anderson, PhD, associate professor of Psychology, associate member of the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University, and research collaborator with Virtually Better, Inc., received an Emory-Georgia Tech Health Innovation Program (HIP)/ACTSI Seed Grant award to study, D-Cycloserine and virtual reality exposure therapy delivered on an iPad: Increasing access to treatment for social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder in the U.S. and the vast majority of people do not receive treatment. The study hopes to increase access of exposure therapy, an evidence-based treatment for social anxiety disorder in which sufferers face their fears in a therapeutic way, by adapting a therapist-assisted computer-based program to be delivered in a self-guided manner on an iPad. The study tests the extent to which D-Cycloserine, a medication which has been shown to enhance the positive effects of therapist-guided exposure, can enhance self-guided exposure therapy. Virtually Better is a start-up software company located in Decatur, GA. “The creative team at Virtually Better – computer programmers, graphic designers, and psychologists – is wonderful. They are responsive, flexible, and very good at what they do. It has been great fun working with them,” said Anderson.
Camerad (Cameras in Radiology) co-founded by ACTSI scholars Srini Tridandapani (KL2/MSCR 2012) and Pamela Bhatti (KL2/MSCR 2013), received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award from the National Science Foundation to translate and commercialize a camera system as an end-to-end solution for seamlessly integrating point-of-care patient photos and radiological studies through existing infratructure. These photos reduce unchecked identification errors up to five-times and decrease overall interpretation time up to 10%.
The ACTSI is a city-wide partnership between Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Georgia Institute of Technology and is one of a national consortium striving to improve the way biomedical research is conducted across the country. The consortium, funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health’s CTSA, shares a common vision to translate laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, engage communities in clinical research efforts, and train the next generation of clinical investigators.