The U.Va. Licensing and Ventures group is offering funding to three local health and technology startups.
The U.Va. Licensing and Ventures Group is responsible for the commercialization of technologies and research developed at the University by faculty and students. A subgroup of the LVG is the Seed Fund, which promotes the commercialization of developed technologies at the University by investing in startups. As of recently, Seed Fund’s current portfolio consists of three companies — TypeZero Technologies, TearSolutions and Mission Secure.
According to Seed Fund Managing Director Robert Creeden, the technologies used by the three companies have major potential in their respective fields. TypeZero is a digital health company that builds software for diabetes management. Alternatively, TearSolutions developed a compound to treat patients suffering from dry eye — a condition where the tears produced in the eye do not provide enough moisture. Mission Secure provides cyber security solutions to protect the operations of companies.
“For TearSolutions, I think it has potential for a good impact for dry eye, or Mission Secure [has] great potential to address the issues in operational cyber technology better than anyone has ever done,” Creeden said. “And in TypeZero I think there’s an opportunity there for the software to help diabetic patients to monitor their treatment and management of the disease.”
According to Creeden, the major criterion in choosing which companies to fund was ensuring that there was an affiliation between the company and the University. For instance, TearSolutions was founded in 2013 by University cellular biology professor Dr. Gordon Laurie. Laurie discovered a protein called lacritin while examining different factors in tears that can improve tear secretion. Laurie published his discovery in a 2002 paper and subsequently founded TearSolutions in 2013 to develop a compound to treat patients with dry eye.
According to President and CEO of TearSolutions Tom Gadek, the U.Va. LVG Seed Fund helped TearSolutions raise some of the 8.5 million dollars the company received through Series B financing — the second round of financing done by the company. TearSolutions has put this money towards conducting clinical trials, using the developed Lacripep compound.
“So the eight and a half million dollars we’ve raised — of which a portion is from the seed fund — will take us to the end of the phase two trial,” Gadek said. “And if we see positive result, we’ll go to phase three, and we’ll probably have to raise another 20 million dollars to do a second pivotal trial.”
In the current phase two clinical trials, human patients who have dry eye are being tested over the span of a month. The patients are receiving eye drops containing the compound lacripep, and the amount of fluorescein corneal staining is measured. Fluorescein corneal staining is a method, which involves placing a drop of fluorescein dye on the patient’s eye and then measuring the amount of staining on the eye. The dye stays longer when there are more imperfections in the corneal epithelium, which is a sign of dry eye.
“If the drug is working, on day one we’ll see a good amount of staining, and then, at the end of treatment day 28, we’ll see less,” Gadek said.
TypeZero Technologies, received its funding in May 2016. TypeZero develops software-based solutions so that individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can manage their blood glucose levels. According to Senior Operations Manager Meagan Collins, TypeZero used the funding it received to both expand its employee base and range of products.
“We used that at the time to — in addition to growing our team here at Type Zero — to support some of the clinical trials in which our technology was being piloted in and was involved,” Collins said. “And it was really that seed fund that helped us develop our next generation of different advisory products, clinical products for persons with Type 1 and Type 2 [diabetes].”
For example, one of the tools developed by TypeZero allows users to monitor and manage their blood glucose levels. The software is in the form of a smartphone application and uses Bluetooth to communicate with an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor. The closed loop tool can automatically deliver insulin directly to the user by examining several factors such as the individual’s blood glucose levels, food intake, exercise and sleep habits.
According to Collins, TypeZero hopes to soon bring the tools that they have developed to the market so that they are commercially available to individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, Collins said that TypeZero has developed more solutions for Type 1, so the next focus is going to be on tools designed for Type 2 diabetes.
The other startup which has received funding, Mission Secure, operates a three step model where they assess potential cyber risks to the operations of companies, design operations to decrease the potential risks to company operations and deploy their platform to protect against cyber attacks. Mission Secure did not return a request for comment.
According to Creeden, the U.Va. LVG Seed Fund wants to promote innovation at the University.
“The fund is focused on technologies and research across the University — life science, non-life science, education school — all schools within the university system are applicable for funding.”