Promentis, Stem Cells, Foxconn, & More: This Week’s WI Watchlist
A recently launched clinical study, highway lanes for autonomous vehicles, and a ruling in an intellectual property-focused court case are among these recent headlines from Wisconsin’s innovation community:
—Promentis Pharmaceuticals, a Milwaukee-based developer of drugs designed to modify brain chemistry to treat central nervous system disorders, said it has started a Phase 1 clinical study of its lead drug compound, SXC-2023. The drug is designed to engage “system xc-,” a molecular mechanism that regulates brain chemistry by ferrying two amino acids—cysteine and glutamate—into and out of neurons.
Promentis said the study is aimed at using SXC-2023 to treat trichotillomania, a chronic and disabling condition marked by hair pulling and hair loss. Trichotillomania is part of a group of obsessive-compulsive and related neuropsychiatric disorders that glutamatergic imbalance and oxidative stress are believed to exacerbate, the company said. It’s estimated that trichotillomania affects about 1 percent of the U.S. population, according to Promentis.
Earlier this year, Promentis completed a $26 million Series C funding round. The company said it plans to use some of the proceeds from the round to advance SXC-2023 through Phase 1 clinical trials and to a Phase 2 “clinical proof of concept.”
—Nearly ten years after University of Wisconsin-Madison biology professor James Thomson and colleagues became the first researchers to derive human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), numerous businesses and academic laboratories in the area are working to develop stem cell-based therapies, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. iPSCs can be differentiated into any type of cell fond in the human body. This makes them useful to groups in the regenerative medicine field seeking to manufacture human tissue, for example.
State Journal reporter David Wahlberg spoke with leaders at several Madison-based biotech companies for the article. They include Cellular Dynamics International (CDI), which Thomson co-founded in 2004 and is now a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Fujifilm; Opsis Therapeutics, a spinoff of CDI launched last year; and BrainXell, which sells neurons developed in its lab to other scientists.
—Forbes named two co-founders of EatStreet, a Madison-based food ordering startup, to its latest “30 Under 30” list, in the consumer technology category. We posted an interview with one of the honorees—Alex Wyler, who is also EatStreet’s chief technology officer—in which he discussed his company’s past, present, and future.
—State highway planners in Wisconsin are mulling the possibility of creating designated lanes for autonomous vehicles on Interstate 94, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Leaders at commercial planning groups like the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce are reportedly studying the prospect of having special lanes for driverless cars and trucks as the electronics assembly giant Foxconn prepares to start construction on a massive facility in southeastern Wisconsin, where the Taiwanese company would manufacture high-resolution displays. I-94 extends south from Milwaukee into the Chicago area.
—The Journal Sentinel also reported that Foxconn is considering creating a venture capital fund. The fund would provide seed-stage capital to “startups that develop commercial applications based on the company’s super-high-definition display panels,” according to the newspaper, which again cited a source at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
—ImageMoverMD has installed a new leadership team after the healthtech startup’s CEO stepped down earlier this fall. Madison-based ImageMoverMD develops software applications that allow clinicians and patients to transmit pictures and videos taken with mobile devices securely, and in a way that doesn’t violate patient privacy laws. K. Thomas Pickard, who had led the company as CEO for two-plus years, said his last day was in September. The three newest additions to ImageMoverMD’s leadership team are: Darcey Nett, president; Gaby Frazer, chief operating officer; and Laura Brown, director of clinical sales and partnerships.
—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Wisconsin judge’s decision to overturn a verdict awarding $52 million in damages to Fitchburg-based Promega, according to Life Sciences Intellectual Property Review, a trade publication. Promega, which manufactures reagents and other life sciences research tools, had earlier brought suit against Life Technologies, a business unit of Waltham, MA-based Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE: TMO). Promega claimed in the lawsuit that Life Technologies infringed on a U.S. patent when the company supplied a plant in London with an enzyme meant to be combined with other components to make DNA analysis kits. A jury had previously awarded $52 million in damages to Promega in 2012, but a judge later set that verdict aside. Then, in February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Promega in the case, which led the company to appeal to the Federal Circuit.
—Understory, a Madison-based weather technology startup, unveiled a new collaboration with Palo Alto, CA-based Pacific Specialty Insurance Company aimed at lowering the amount of money insurers pay policyholders for weather-related property damage. The two businesses have been working together in recent months to evaluate how Understory’s hardware and software tools can be used—both before and after inclement weather events—to help reduce costs for insurers.
—UW-Madison’s news service reported that Lactic Solutions, a company spun out of research conducted at the school, was acquired last month by Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits, a business unit of Ontario, Canada-based Lallemand, for an undisclosed sum.
Lactic Solutions had been seeking to commercialize a patented method for getting lactic acid bacteria to produce ethanol, rather than lactic acid, which can be harmful. Just as lactic acid bacteria can contaminate beer and wine by producing lactic acid instead of alcohol, it can also create snags in the ethanol production process, the university said. James Steele, a food science professor at UW-Madison, founded Lactic Solutions in 2015.