April 2021 GRA Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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Big research grants, VC investment make for a memorable April

A series of announcements in April indicates how much it pays to invest in expanding research capacity and entrepreneurship at Georgia’s universities. Newly announced federal grants to GRA-related research enterprises topped $97 million; and news came that another $106 million in private investment is being channeled to startup companies that GRA helped seed. “What happened in April illustrates the potential payoff of making highly targeted investments of state dollars to help university scientists do more research and start more companies,” says Susan Shows, GRA’s president. For more on the labs and companies receiving outside investment in April, keep reading below. • See how one scientist can catalyze growth >Check out some featured startups >

Aruna Bio, Antios attract major investments

Two bioscience companies receiving GRA investment announced significant capital raises in April. Antios Therapeutics, launched out of Emory, raised $96 million in Series B financing from new and existing investors. Proceeds from the round will support Phase 2 clinical studies of Antios’ treatment for chronic hepatitis B. And Aruna Bio, a young company out of UGA, closed a common stock financing of nearly $11 million. Aruna Bio is advancing development of neural exosomes, or pockets of small RNA, that can cross the blood-brain barrier to treat neurological diseases. Founded by GRA Eminent Scholar Steve Stice, the company will apply the capital to support its business plan. • More about Antios >Read the release on Aruna Bio >

UGA gets green light to launch flu research center

The rapid rise of virology and immunology research at the University of Georgia was a major factor in the NIH announcement this month of a seven-year contract to UGA that could reach $92 million for flu research. A new Center of Influenza Disease and Emergence Research (CIDER) will be launched at the university to deepen exploration into how the flu virus emerges and infects people and animals. Led by Mark Tompkins, a professor of infectious disease working in UGA’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology (CVI), CIDER will partner with four other research centers around the world. The contract follows the fall 2019 announcement of an NIH grant of up to $130 million to establish a separate UGA center to develop a universal flu vaccine. CVI was created in 2015 with the recruit of GRA Eminent Scholar Ted Ross, who was instrumental in building momentum in UGA’s flu research efforts. • Details about the new NIH contract >

Georgia State scholars to get $5.3M for projects

NIH is also advancing the pioneering work of two GRA Eminent Scholars at Georgia State. Vince Calhoun received a five-year, $3 million grant to learn more about how mental illness presents in the brain. To identify clues to the emergence of mood disorders, Calhoun will combine 4-D technology with clinical and cognitive data. Also, J.D. Li was awarded a five-year, $2.3 million grant to study middle-ear infections — specifically, why they spur inflammation and excess mucus, both of which can lead to hearing loss. Li will also use the grant to build on his work developing non-antibiotic therapeutics to treat the infections. • More on the NIH award to Calhoun >Learn about Li’s grant >

MedShape acquired by med tech company DJO

Orthopedics innovator MedShape, launched out of Georgia Tech 16 years ago, has been acquired by leading medical technology provider DJO. The acquisition expands DJO’s portfolio by adding MedShape’s novel devices for foot and ankle surgeries. The devices — forged out of the company’s patented shape memory alloy, nickel titanium (NiTiNOL) — improve how surgeons fuse foot and ankle joints and repair soft tissue. MedShape was co-founded by Kurt Jacobus and Ken Gall, and GRA was an early investor. “We have unbounded future potential,” says Gall, “and we are excited to expand into other areas of orthopedics leveraging DJO's market leadership, patient outcome focus and commitment to product innovation.” • More on the acquisition >

Mentor musings from a GRA senior advisor

University startups need more than seed money to get off the ground – they also benefit from the sage advice of those who know the entrepreneurial landscape. GRA provides this advice through a corps of senior advisors, seasoned leaders who generously give their time and counsel to enterprises in the early months and years of their journey to market. Bill Midgette is one of those advisors. In 2016 – newly retired from a 12-year stint leading the materials innovation company Porex – Midgette signed on to mentor leaders of startups in GRA’s venture development portfolio. This month, he reflected on that experience and shared some insights on how best to help early-stage enterprises. • See what Bill has to say >

MSM lands grant to help rural Georgians

Nearly 80,000 Georgians living in rural areas will get better access to treatment and education because of a new initiative spearheaded by Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) and New Horizons Behavioral Health, a central Georgia provider. On April 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a grant of just under $1 million to MSM and New Horizons to extend telemedicine and telehealth education to Georgians in nine counties. Together, they’ll work to strengthen distance learning and telemed infrastructures, improve training for providers and educators and promote the sharing of resources. The grant is part of a larger USDA effort to improve healthcare access and equity in America’s rural areas. • More on the initiative >

Sanguina to partner with AstraZeneca on app

An anemia test that requires specialized equipment to process may someday be conducted via a smartphone app, thanks to a new partnership between GRA-backed Sanguina and global pharma company AstraZeneca. The two companies announced April 14 they would explore the creation of an app — a customized version of Sanguina’s AnemoCheck Mobile app — to check hemoglobin levels in people who suffer from anemia of chronic kidney disease (CKD). AnemoCheck Mobile analyzes a photograph of a patient’s fingernails to estimate hemoglobin levels, making standard anemia testing much more accessible and convenient. The joint study will determine the practicality of modifying the app to help patients with anemia of CKD. • News release right here > 

Mercer launches new center, doctoral program

A year from now, the Atlanta campus of Mercer University will begin offering courses for a new Doctor of Public Health degree. Mercer’s Board of Trustees approved the program in April to prepare more future leaders in public health. Also this month: Mercer announced a new center to advance the university’s program to supply high-quality prosthetics to people around the world who otherwise could not afford them. Funded by a $10 million gift from the Phil J. and Alice S. Sheridan Foundation in Macon, the new center builds on the distribution of prosthetics through the Mercer On Mission program. Mercer On Mission has fitted more than 16,000 Vietnamese people with the prosthetic legs (above), which were designed and manufactured by university faculty, staff and students. • Learn about the new doctorate >More about Mercer’s new center >

New Jinfiniti test IDs levels of key molecules

A young company out of Augusta University is making it easier to test for levels of NAD, a small organic molecule that factors into age-related diseases. Jinfiniti, founded by GRA Eminent Scholar Jin-Xiong She, has developed two new tests to determine NAD levels; results from the tests help guide the taking of supplements. As humans grow older, NAD levels tend to decline. Factors like alcohol and sleep disruption deplete the molecules faster, while weight loss and exercise can increase their expression. “The Jinfiniti test is ideal for consumers to evaluate their NAD level relative to the human population in different age groups, and provide an easy way to monitor the success of NAD supplements or therapy,” She says. • Visit Jinfiniti’s website >

Give it up for Gimme! Startup is ‘Readers’ Choice’

Avid readers of the trade magazine Automatic Merchandiser are big fans of the wireless data exchange adapter developed by Georgia Tech startup Gimme. This month, they chose the product – named Gimme Key Pro (above) – as “New Product of the Year” in the technology category. The adapter and other technology developed by Gimme help food service and grocery store delivery operators automate merchandising. Gimme received early-stage investment from GRA, and later, GRA Venture Fund. Congrats to Gimme! 

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