CNY Biotech Incubator helps entrepreneurs work on their medical-related products
By Payne Horning
With its rounded, glass-encased exterior, the Central New York Biotech Accelerator on East Fayette Street in Syracuse may not look like any factory you’ve seen before. But inside, breakthroughs are being made and products developed every day.
Upstate Medical University owns and operates this incubator, which works to help for-profit startup companies in the healthcare technology field.
Participants who license space in the 52,3300-sq.-ft. facility have access to 900+ square-foot labs, state-of-the art technology such as 3-D printers, communal space for collaboration, and a theater for conferences and presentations. In addition, members can gain access to the facilities and services at Upstate, like clinical trials.
Kathi Durdon, executive director of the Biotech Accelerator, says the goal is to see these young companies succeed — and the community along with them.
“It’s not necessarily that they are going to have a breakthrough product that’s going to be phenomenal and make them a lot of money. That’s not really what it is,” Durdon said. “It’s small companies that are going to hire people and stay in our community. Their growth may be mild or moderate, but the small companies are those that help the economy the most. They’re the ones that really are generating the job employment opportunities.”
Although each company is focused on medical innovation, the type of work and products vary greatly from one lab to the next.
Quadrant Biosciences, one of the companies with space at the Biotech Accelerator, recently developed a saliva test that can detect concussions in children sooner than current assessments and even predict how long recovery will take. And in the latest round of the medical device innovation competition that the Biotech Accelerator hosts each year, the organization provided support for a range of companies that have designed products to reduce medical errors and urinary tract infections.
Since opening in 2012, the Biotech Accelerator has grown from three tenants to 13. Durdon says having more tenants in the building results in more collaboration. Many share lab space and interns.
Steven Sperber, director of the Upstate Molecular Diagnostics Lab at the Biotech Accelerator, says that opportunity for collaboration is invaluable. Sperber says the lab is currently looking to double the size of its space at the facility.
“This whole building is a phenomenal resource to bring these people together to have a critical mass of brainpower and a space to develop ideas into products or services like our lab offers,” Sperber said. “This building is a fabulous gift.”
Unlike other incubators, Durdon says the Biotech Accelerator does not provide intensive mentoring for its tenants. Staff offers resources and logistical support, but she says each company is responsible for its own growth. If a company stops progressing, staff from the Biotech Accelerator will meet with it to determine how they can help. But Durdon says sometimes the best move for everyone is to ask the company to vacate the building to create an opportunity for another startup.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for all of the companies at the Biotech Accelerator is the amount of regulation in the healthcare industry. Durdon says it can take more than three years for a medical device to make it to the market, and 12 to 15 years for pharmaceutical products due to required clinical tests.
“It is a lengthy process,” Durdon said. “It’s risky because you’re hoping that it will do what it’s intended to do and then when you get it into the real environment where it’s going to be used, there are variables that can impact how that product performs. And if it doesn’t perform safely, you go back to the drawing board.”
In addition to the need to comply with strict regulations, startup companies in the healthcare industry also struggle with costs.
Labs and medical technology are too expensive to access for the average startup, according to Durdon. That’s why she says the Biotech Accelerator is so important. It’s providing a unique opportunity for these entrepreneurs that can have a major impact for the people they hope to benefit.
“Without these small companies bringing these innovations forward that will ultimately impact our patient community, how do we get these new innovations out the door,” Durdon asked. “How do we get patient access to the new treatments, the better outcomes — it’s through these small companies.”
What’s Cooking at Biotech Incubator
Every year Upstate MIND (Medical Innovation and Novel Discovery Center) at the Central New York Biotech Accelerator, sponsors a Medical Device Innovation Challenge, giving organizations and individuals the chance to bring their projects to life.
Winners receive six months of free work space at the Creation Garage at the incubator, plus access to Upstate Medical University research and clinical experts as well as use of Upstate’s core research facilities.
Participants also gain intensive mentorship from a cadre of medical device product development, regulatory, commercialization and legal experts. Collaborative partners involved in the program include Blackstone LaunchPad, Innovation Law Center, Upstate Venture Connect and many others.
Companies selected as winners of the 2019 Medical Device Innovative Challenge are:
• CathBuddy Inc., of Woodbury, which is making reusable urinary intermittent catheters system for people with neurogenic bladder (the loss of bladder control due to brain or spinal cord or nerve problem). The system includes an at-home sterilization unit, a reusable catheter insertion aid and a reusable urinary catheter.
• Halamine Inc., of Ithaca, which aims to develop a new category of “hydrogel skin” coated urinary catheters with improved infection control. This coating innovation is based on a new composition of hydrogel materials (named HalaGel) that combines antimicrobial and anti-immunoreaction chemistries, which were invented by Cornell University biological engineering researcher Mingyu Qiao, co-founder of Halamine Inc.
• MedUX, of Syracuse, which is creating a shoulder-mounted portable IV system (called L-IV, for Liberating Intravenous) that allows people in hospital settings or disaster situations to get IV treatment comfortably and efficiently without being tethered to an IV pole.
• Megan Thomas, of Syracuse, which is developing a breast pump that can be used while a women engage in daily activities, whether at the workplace or at home. The product’s goal is to eliminating the time women must spend solely on pumping. Thomas wants to enable women to pump in the physical workplace without the social stigma of having to seek a storage or break room.
• Revital Therapeutics, of New Jersey, which is a tissue engineering company dedicated to creating off-the-shelf tissue grafts for a wide range of conditions and surgical procedures. Like donated tissues, Revital’s tissues are composed of 100% native human extracellular matrix, meaning complete biocompatibility and high activity of the growth factors. Revital’s tissues are optimized for wound healing, able to control inflammation, while at the same time stimulating regrowth at sites of damage and disease.
• ZephyRx of Albany, which designs breath-powered video game controllers so popular video games can be used in respiratory therapy for conditions, such as pneumonia, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“Through this program, these innovators will find a ready supply of expertise, support and encouragement to move their products and ideas forward,” said Kathi Durdon, executive director of the CNY Biotech Accelerator.