Marval Biosciences, San Diego’s Latest Virtual Biomedical Startup, Raises $2.5M to Develop Next-Generation Contrast Agents for Medical Imaging

Xconomy San Diego — 

Marval Biosciences, which was established in Houston two years ago with medical imaging technology from the University of Texas, has raised $2.5 million in a secondary round of venture funding—and CEO Russell Lebovitz tells me he has moved to San Diego.

The startup, which has a half-dozen key people, operates virtually, with some employees in Houston and some in San Diego. Lebovitz says he moved to San Diego last year.

Marval licensed rights to contrast agents developed for X-ray and computing tomography (CT) imaging by Anath Annapragada, an adjoint professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Annapragada, who remains in Texas, is a Marval co-founder and chief scientist. The technology is based on so-called liposomal nanoparticles, which the company has developed as a “fundamental reformulation” of existing chemical entities already used as contrast dyes for CT scans. Lebovitz says Marval’s technology is safer for patients and the nanoparticles show up clearly on CT scans.

Lebovitz says the venture funding was raised from the Los Angeles office of DFJ Frontier and the Houston office of DFJ Mercury, two early stage, institutional investors affiliated with the Menlo Park, CA, venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. The latest investment round brings total funding for Marval to $4.5 million since 2007.

Lebovitz says Marval’s nanoparticle contrast agents could revolutionize CT imaging, which is commonly used to diagnose acute chest pains that drive some 8 to 10 million Americans to emergency rooms every year. CT scans are used to create a 3-D view of organs, blood vessels and tissues. Contrast agents or dyes are commonly injected into a patient’s bloodstream during the scanning process to enhance the quality of images.

“We’re producing the next-generation contrast agent,” Lebovitz says. Marval’s use of liposome-encased nanoparticles represents a safer approach than traditional contrast agents for patients at risk of renal trouble from existing contrast agents.  Lebovitz says that group includes diabetics, people who are in their 60s or older, and those suffering from chronic renal insufficiency. Liposomes are microscopic, fluid-filled pouches whose walls are made of layers of phospholipids—the same stuff that makes up cell membranes. They’re already used to deliver certain cancer drugs, help shield healthy cells from the drugs’ toxicity, and prevent the drugs from accumulating in vulnerable tissues, especially the kidneys and liver.

Testing in large animals shows that Marval’s contrast agents do not concentrate in the kidneys, Lebovitz says. “One of the reasons we’re very optimistic about [Marval’s technology] is that we are using no new chemical entities,” Lebovitz says. The startup’s nanoparticle-based contrast agents represents a fundamentally different formulation of chemical entities that already have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he says.