Now in its third year, the Innovation Zone at the BIO 2016 International Convention (San Francisco, June 6-9) will host even more pioneering and transformational companies. The Innovation Zone was created through a partnership with the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the intent to group Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)-funded companies together on the exhibit floor of the BIO International Convention. The partnership originated in 2014 with 35 companies; it grew to 75 companies in 2015 and this year it will host 100 companies.
The SBIR program provides U.S. federal funding to small businesses engaged in research and development with the potential for commercialization. Companies are rigorously vetted through the NIH and NSF SBIR review process prior to receiving the funding.
Today we spoke with Innovation Zone exhibitor, Jake Reder, Ph.D, Cofounder, Director, & CEO of Celdara Medical, which is supported by NIH’s SBIR program.
BTN: What is your company’s lead product or technology?
Celdara Medical combined SBIR funding (from NHLBI and NCI) with founder’s capital, angel funding, and profits from our CLIA lab to bring a radically different CAR T cell therapy from an academic lab into the clinic.
BTN: How has the NIH SBIR program helped your company grow?
Our CAR T cell therapy is currently in Phase I trials for AML and multiple myeloma at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. It has led to a partnership with a publicly-traded cellular therapy specialist (Celyad, SA; NASDAQ: CYAD), who has invested heavily in the program and has accelerated clinical development – as well as the preclinical development – of next-generation CAR T therapies and platforms.
Without the SBIR Program, this work wouldn’t have made it out of the university. We would have likely been forced into the typical mode of “fundraise, spend, hope, and repeat” which leaves far too many promising innovations to die on the vine.
BTN: Why do you believe the NIH SBIR program is so important?
There’s a fundamental financial truth in our industry that not enough people realize: when starting with university-sourced innovations, our sector’s average time to liquidity, success rate, and capital requirements result in a negative return on investment. So if one is primarily interested in financial gain, one should look elsewhere, and many companies have. Of course, the direct financial returns of university research are also negative, but society still funds academic research to gain the societal returns (e.g. new knowledge and improved human health). Similarly, back in the 1970’s Congress realized that this financial truth extended past research and into early stage development. This led them to create the SBIR program. Being able to incorporate a non-dilutive source of a capital into our financing plan has truly enabled our entire business model. It allows us to take on high-risk, high-reward initiatives that others simply cannot. It has allowed us to work on cellular therapies at a time (not so long ago!) when “cell therapy” would end any conversation with investors or potential partners.
BTN: What are the upcoming milestones and long-term priorities for your company?
Celdara Medical was built on the premise that the NIH funds an unparalleled source of innovation (primarily in the US academy) that results in numerous discoveries with the potential to radically improve human health. We currently manage a pipeline of about 500 assets per year, which is a feat in itself, but the bigger question is how to efficiently advance the best of the best into the clinic. The challenge for drug developers has been identifying, vetting, funding, and developing these innovations into the clinic where they can help patients.
BTN: What do you hope to gain out of your participation at the 2016 BIO International Convention?
We’re very happy to be at BIO 2016 to talk about the next crop of innovations we’re advancing, many with the great benefit of SBIR funding supporting them. See you in San Francisco!