Big Deals in Texas (ZS Pharma, HomeAway, Gravitant) & Other News

Let’s get caught up on the latest innovation news in Texas.

—AstraZeneca scoops up Texas-born biotech ZS Pharma in a $2.7 billion deal. The British drug maker announced the purchase Friday, saying that ZS Pharma’s key therapy, ZS-9, which is being developed to fight chronic kidney disease, will boost its pipeline of drugs that fight cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. ZS Pharma was founded in a Fort Worth, TX, suburb but moved to California last year following its $107 million IPO.

—Austin, TX-based HomeAway was purchased by Expedia in a $3.9 billion deal. The Bellevue, WA-based travel giant, which operates,, and, said it was looking for a way to enter the “alternative accommodations” market and had been speaking to HomeAway executives for two years. HomeAway was founded in 2005 as an online marketplace for vacation rentals and raised $216 million in an IPO in 2011.

IBM buys Austin’s Gravitant, an Austin company that develops cloud-based software that enables organizations to manage software and computing services from multiple suppliers across hybrid clouds. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. In an interview with me following a venture capital raise of $10 million two years ago, founder and CEO Mohammed Farooq described Gravitant as the “Expedia of IT.”

—There are a lot of apps to plan and organize your travel online. Dallas startup Traxo says it has the app to manage it all in one place. Its app not only keeps track of itineraries but also uses artificial intelligence to recommend places to stay, eat, or drink based on location and loyalty program memberships.

—The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has expanded the list of target cancers in its “Moon Shots” program. Moon Shots is designed to apply healthcare data analytics to evaluate new cancer therapies as well as biomarkers to help guide and monitor cancer treatment. The new cancer targets are B-cell lymphoma, glioblastoma (brain cancer), cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), high-risk multiple myeloma, and colorectal and pancreatic cancers. Since its start in 2013, the program has targeted ovarian cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, lung cancer, melanoma, myelodysplastic syndrome/acute myeloid leukemia and prostate cancer.

South By Southwest found itself embroiled in controversy over sexism in technology, free speech, and Gamergate. It started when festival organizers announced it was canceling two panels due to unspecified threats against panelists, which led to criticism of censorship. SXSW said it would instead feature a daylong panel on online harassment but some of the speakers listed for this event — who were on the original panels — said they hadn’t confirmed they would attend. SXSW has yet to address that issue; it’s still not known what the next steps will be regarding the daylong summit.

TrendKite, an Austin maker of public relations software, raised $10.7 million, bringing its total funding to $20.6 million. Investors included Noro-Moseley Partners in Atlanta, along with Battery Ventures, Silverton Partners, and Houston’s Mercury Fund.

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