New ways to tackle the economic and social devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are emerging and being high at universities in Boulder Valley and northern Colorado. The technology transfer and acceleration entities at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado State University at Fort Collins help them get the entrepreneurial support they need to accelerate their commercialization.
The ideas of CU scientists and engineers are reinforced by PHAST. The pandemic hyper accelerator for science and technology, launched this spring by Venture Partners at CU Boulder with a federal grant of $ 500,000 and a local match of $ 125,000 as part of the SPRINT challenge (Scaling Pandemic Resilience Through Innovation and Technology (SPRINT) of the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration Venture Partners, the marketing arm of CU, launched PHAST to support the translation of COVID-19 innovations into new businesses.
“There is no shortage of good ideas on campus. What often differentiates ideas and impact is the translation and practical application of those ideas, ”said Bryn Rees, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at CU Boulder and Managing Director of Venture. Partners. “This is the goal of PHAST. We’re bringing together leading technologists, entrepreneurs, and startup resources along the Colorado Front Range to bring COVID-19 solutions out of the lab and into the field.
“From the start of last year, we saw the organic increase in research and innovation focused on the pandemic: examining how the virus was transmitted, if we could develop immunity against it, if we could test it, vaccinate for it, ”Rees said, adding that specific campus-born start-ups are developing innovations related to COVID.
One of those startups is New Iridium, which develops commercialized technologies to accelerate drug development and manufacturing with help from PHAST and CSU Ventures, the Colorado state’s technology transfer arm. The startup received a National Science Foundation small business technology transfer grant of $ 256,000 to accelerate the availability of Remdesivir, a COVID-fighting drug, using a manufacturing process that uses photocatalysis, a chemical technology driven by light rather than heat.
In May, New Iridium was selected to participate in a 10-week Biomimicry Institute Virtual Accelerator for a chance to win a $ 100,000 Ray of Hope Award from industry and conservation leaders at World Wildlife. Fund, Patagonia and Yale University, among others.
Darwin Biosciences, which created one of the first saliva-based COVID tests with results ready in less than an hour, is another startup that is finding life in the PHAST path. “If you go back a year, it was all nasal swabs, and it took days and days to get a test result – and it wasn’t good enough,” Rees said. “Darwin had been trained before the pandemic to market a diagnostic test called SickStick, but he pivoted and created the saliva-based COVID test called CoVLab where you just spit into a tube and then they will analyze the test sample. It changes color if the coronavirus is present.
“They set up a testing lab in the Jennie Smoly Caruthers biotechnology building on the CU campus and got space to operate,” Rees said. “They provided thousands of tests all over Colorado and Nebraska. They are the most advanced in terms of market penetration. They also generated significant income.
Rees also cited VitriVax, which is developing a single-injection thermostable platform – not just for COVID but for any vaccine. “Current COVID vaccines must be stored at very low temperatures below zero, which is difficult for many regions, especially rural areas which do not have access to this cold chain,” he said. declared. “These new vaccines – which have yet to go through clinical trials – will not need to be refrigerated; they can just sit in a warehouse and stay active. And the single dose is important because it is so difficult to make sure that people are given multiple doses. “
Then there’s BCell Solutions Inc., a preclinical biopharmaceutical company that is evaluating the use of its BCS-N01 peptide immunotherapies as a potential therapeutic intervention to help advanced and critically ill COVID-19 patients. The company is seeking industry collaboration and funding.
Rees noted that all of these companies have raised capital and are taking advantage of advanced industrial grants through the Colorado Bureau of Economic Development and International Trade.
At CSU, meanwhile, researchers are working on things like advanced ventilation systems, a facial mark that detects COVID by changing color, and a vaccine produced using a new, proprietary SolaVAX method for inactivating a whole virion particle. Invented by Raymond Goodrich and Richard Bowen, the vaccine, according to a press release from CSU, “has been tested in a susceptible hamster animal model for its ability to prevent infection when challenged with the SARS-CoV virus. -2 and has been found to be effective. by providing protection against COVID-19 disease. “
“Universities are so well positioned to innovate and solve the problems created by the pandemic,” Rees said, which is why CU created the PHAST accelerator to “identify and make promising technologies and innovations at the university. spinning fast We have identified over 10 opportunities to put them forward, and that’s what we’ll be doing over the next six months – matching them with entrepreneurs and residents with preliminary funding.
The six-month PHAST Accelerator Program begins virtually this month and ends with a demo day where attendees can pitch their proposals to angel investors, venture capitalists and the startup community. . They will also complete the weeklong Rockies Venture Club HyperAccelerator.
“Think about it,” Rees said. “A year ago, everyone thought that this virus was transmitted by surface contact. They believed with certainty that it was not transmitted by aerosols. Now here we are, a year later, and it has almost completely reversed the course of this thought – that it is mainly transmitted by aerosols. Some of the thought leaders responsible for this – particularly chemistry professor Jose Jimenez – were at CU.
“It’s very convenient too,” Rees said, “because once people figured it out, it led to some very practical changes that could be made to the HVAC airflow that could reduce the rates. transmission. The research alone had a big impact on how we responded.