Texas Roundup: UH Food Tech, Orb Health, NASA, CPRIT Grants, & More

Let’s catch up with the latest innovation news from Xconomy Texas.

Orb Health, a startup alum of the Health Wildcatters accelerator in Dallas, announced it has raised $3.2 million in Series A funding from Mt. Vernon Investments in Dallas, along with Green Park & Golf and other seed investors. Phoenix-based Orb plans to use the proceeds to further develop software to create a collaborative care platform for physician-owned practices and large health systems, the startup said in a press release Tuesday.

—A University of Houston team of students and a professor from the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management has won $50,000 for an app designed to improve food handling practices at small to medium-sized restaurants and grocery stores. The award is from the Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) prize competition, a first-time collaboration among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the National Science Foundation to connect academia and industry to boost agricultural commercialization. The Houston team—along with other winners, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lincoln University, and Cornell University—will present their findings in Washington, DC, early next month.

—An Austin, TX, startup wants to make the end-of-life planning process easier for patients, their families, and their caregivers. Iris Plans has launched with its first major customer, the University of Utah Health Plans, to offer telemedicine services that can walk families through the sorts of decisions they need to make when dealing with chronic illness.

Innovations conceived in the course of space exploration have had a direct impact on lives back on Earth. (Think satellite communications, LEDs, and infrared ear thermometers, among others.) Douglas Terrier, chief technologist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, says NASA in the 21st century will continue to innovate, this time much more closely with private partners. For example, developing long-distance communications systems are needed by both NASA and the oil and gas industry. “We can work that problem together,” he says.

—A University of Texas at San Antonio fund has been created to provide researchers with up to $25,000 in proof-of-concept awards every year. Earlier this month, twelve teams of researchers with ideas for drugs or medical devices pitched a group of judges comprised of investors, biomedical executives, and others. While the university had said it expected the winners to be announced last week, the decisions have yet to be made.

Two Texas immuno-oncology companies working on blood cancer treatments received about $32 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Houston-based Bellicum Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: [[ticker: BLCM]]) was awarded $16.9 million to develop a T-cell therapy for acute myeloid leukemia. Molecular Templates, based just north of Austin in Georgetown, TX, received $15.2 million for its treatment for multiple myeloma. The company is developing antibodies that use the immune system to find and kill cancer cells that express a glycoprotein called CD38.

—The Texas Medical Center’s TMCx accelerator held its demo day for a class of medical device startups featuring innovations in spinal tap procedures, an exoskeleton for seniors and the physically disabled, and a catheter system for liver patients, among others. The demo day, earlier this month, brings to an end the second class of startups at TMCx. The first class specialized in digital health and presented to investors in June.

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