Two medtech start-ups have earned cash prizes in MassMEDIC’s IGNITE 2020 program as the year wrapped up at the 2020 MedTech IGNITE Virtual Accelerator final event on February 24. Cellens, a company co-founded by Jean N. Pham and Dr. Igor Sokolov, took first prize for its achievements in developing a suite of cancer detection products. And Beacon Bio, founded by Nicole Black, a Gliklich Healthcare Innovation Fellow, took second prize for its development of 3D-printed regenerative solutions for tympanoplasty procedures. Cellens will receive $15,000 in cash, while Beacon Bio will receive $5,000.
The program also recognized two other winners: Nesa Medtech, which was founded by Sreekar Kothamachu and is developing a minimally invasive treatment for symptomatic uterine fibroids; and VeraDermics, co-founded by Drs. Tim Durso and Reid Waldman and developing a pediatric wart treatment combining therapy with a drug delivery. These two companies were selected by IGNITE sponsors to receive in-kind services. Nesa Medtech will receive services from Propel, and VeraDermics will receive services from Boyd Technologies. Alira Health also selected Cellens for in-kind services.
Top winners Pham and Black will join Brian Johnson, president of MassMEDIC, at the upcoming MD&M BIOMEDigital virtual event to discuss their work and how they progressed over the course of the IGNITE program. They will speak in the keynote panel discussion, “MassMEDIC Ignite Winners Share Their Innovation Start-Up Stories, on April 7 at 11:00 am.
Cellens seeks to advance the current standard of care by offering an easily integrable suite of products in cancer detection. The initial proof-of-concept study was done with grant support from the National Science Foundation and NorrisCotton Cancer Center, Dartmouth College. The Cellens team is currently working with physicians from Brigham's and Women Hospital and Tufts Medical Center to conduct a validation study on a large cohort of patients with history of bladder cancer recurrence. Through the MassMedic IGNITE program, the company was able to connect with legal, regulatory, and reimbursement experts who helped the team devise a launch plan.
Beacon Bio is working at Mass Eye and Ear Hospital and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in Boston on its regenerative tissue. IGNITE has helped the team advance its manufacturing and scale-up for PhonoGraft, a biomimetic device for the repair of chronic eardrum perforations. The team is conducting animal studies for chronic eardrum perforations to derisk the technology and is assembling a regulatory strategy for FDA clearance, according to a statement provided to MD+DI.
Nesa Medtech’s uterine fibroid treatment aims preserve the uterus. “Uterine fibroids are very common benign growths that develop in the muscular wall of the uterus. Each year around 200K surgeries are performed in U.S. alone to treat uterine fibroids,” said Kothamachu in a statement. “Nesa Medtech addresses this huge clinical need by developing a patented minimally-invasive technology alternative to traditional surgical approaches with the promise of less morbidity, short recovery time, faster procedure time, and lower cost.” Since IGNITE, the company has produced sample units and has been preparing for clinical pilot studies on product safety. It would then seek regulatory approval.
VeraDermics is focusing on immunotherapy for pediatric warts. Immunotherapy “works better than the standard of care,” noted cofounder Reid Waldman, MD, during BIOMEDigital 2020, but “the problems with these injections is that they can be exquisitely painful.” The company is utilizing immunotherapy with an FDA-approved generic active ingredient known to work for warts along with a dissolvable microneedle patch.
Beacon Bio, Cellens, Nesa Medtech, and VeraDermics were part of a cohort of 22 companies, many of which MD+DI profiled after they participated in the BIOMEDigital Start-up Showcase in November 2020. And in February 2021, six finalists pitched during the 2020 MedTech IGNITE Virtual Accelerator over Zoom to a panel of judges and audience of nearly 200 guests.
“Congratulations to our winners and to the entire 2020 IGNITE Cohort. While these 22 company founders faced unprecedented challenges, each made huge strides over the course of the program honing their pitch, advancing their technology, and building their networks. The success of our IGNITE companies in securing funding during the current environment is validation of their potential and innovation. We are confident that investment in these ventures will continue to contribute to the Commonwealth’s economy and the greater medtech ecosystem,” said Brian Johnson, president of MassMEDIC, in the statement. “MassMEDIC is committed to supporting and growing the Commonwealth’s medtech startup ecosystem. This program would not be possible without the involvement of members of the entire community and we thank all of our sponsors, the IGNITE Steering Committee, Judges, Mentors and Faculty for their time, expertise and support.” Sponsors include the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC).
According to MassMEDIC, IGNITE companies have collectively secured over $30 million in financing through SBIR grants, prizes, and seed funding. Half of those companies are female-led, such as Coremap, co-founded by Sarah Kalil. The company announced a Series A round of $10.5M in funding in September of 2020 and opened a Boston design headquarters in January 2021.
Founders interested in learning more and submitting an application for the 2021 IGNITE cohort can apply here.