PCIV Spotlight 2020
The PCI Ventures 2020 Annual Report
About PCI Ventures
We provide a suite of products and services to incubate the development of early stage companies based on technologies and business ideas created at Penn as they make their way towards commercial success.
PCI Ventures actively seeks entrepreneurs to lead our companies and investors to provide funding for our portfolio of new ventures in development.Learn More
PCI Ventures, a division of the Penn Center for Innovation, has a mission to maximize the potential of Penn’s pioneering research to the benefit of the University, the investigative team, and society in general through the creation and stimulus of entrepreneurial endeavors.
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By the Numbers
Current Company Team Members
Raised by 22 PCIV Supported Companies
BACK TO PENN IN SPONSORED RESEARCH
Years in Operation
COMPANIES HAVE RECEIVED FUNDING
Raised in funding
BACK TO PENN IN SPONSORED RESEARCH
UNIQUE SOURCES OF FUNDING
Carisma Therapeutics, co-founded by Michael Klichinsky, MD, PhD, Vice President of Research and Discovery at Carisma and Saar Gill, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Perelman School of Medicine, is developing a differentiated and proprietary cell therapy platform focused on engineered macrophages, cells that play a crucial role in both the innate and adaptive immune response.
In July, the company announced that the FDA cleared an investigational new drug (IND) application for their lead product candidate, CT-0508, an anti-human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) targeted chimeric antigen receptor macrophage (CAR-M). Steven Kelly, President and CEO commented on this pivotal milestone, “this will be the first time that an engineered macrophage has progressed successfully to the in-patient study phase and represents a new chapter for Carisma: advancing from a preclinical discovery-stage company to a clinical development stage company.” Just before the new year, Carisma completed the first close of its Series B funding with $48 million of new capital which will be used to advance the development and support the evaluation of novel CAR-Macrophage Immunotherapies.
EpiVario is utilizing neuroepigenetics to develop novel treatments for a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, including PTSD and drug addiction. The company was co-founded by two leaders in the field of neuroepigenetics – Shelley Berger, PhD, Daniel S. Och University Professor at UPenn and her former graduate student Philipp Mews, PhD, now an instructor in the neuroscience department of the Friedman Brain Institute at Mt. Sinai.
Led by CEO Thomas Kim, EpiVario overcame the challenges of 2020 and had many notable accomplishments. The company entered into an Option Agreement with the University of Penn to in-license Alzheimer’s technology using novel epigenetic markers discovered by co-founder Dr. Shelley Berger. In June of 2020, EpiVario was selected as one of twelve finalists for Nature’s inaugural Spinoff Prize. Epivario successfully raised an additional $112.5K in their Seed offering, which brought the total funds raised to $717K. The additional funding will be used to advance the company’s addiction therapy research, and to explore opportunities in the area of memory-related disorders.
Exyn Technologies, co-founded by Vijay Kumar, PhD, Dean of the Penn School of Engineering and Applied Science is developing robot systems to autonomously navigate and collect data where maps and GPS do not exist. Exyn kicked off 2020 with a flurry of exciting news and a couple notable ‘firsts’.
In March, the company was announced as a finalist for the SXSW Innovation Award in AI and Machine Learning. Later in the year, the Philadelphia based startup teamed up with their neighbors at Dock Street Brewery to create the world’s first-known drone-assisted brewing operation. Exyn’s Chief Dog Officer, Kody assisted in another ‘first’ for the company, First Dog to Fly a Drone, that is. The video was heartwarming during a time when everyone was in need of a smile and, as Forbes contributor David Hambling pointed out, it presented “a serious message about the rapid evolution of drone autonomy.” Finally, Exyn capped off the year by executing a major partnership with Sandvik, the world’s leader in mining automation. With the challenges of 2020 behind them, the Exyn team plans to build on its partnerships and solidify its position as the world leader in autonomous flying robots.
FloBio is developing a diagnostic platform to rapidly identify bleeding and thrombotic risk in patients by analyzing blood flow and assessing the underlying clot biology. Founded by Scott Diamond, PhD, of Penn School of Engineering and Applied Science and led by CEO Jerri Ann Thatcher, FloBio’s innovative approach was highlighted as a Falling Walls 2020 Finalist in the category of Science Start-Ups.
In 2020, the company completed its first integrated prototype and advanced the first product for Direct Oral Anticoagulant (DOAC) bleeding risk detection, demonstrating the ability to detect DOAC-inhibited clotting, reversal agent activity, and sensitivity/specificity around DOAC levels. The company was also awarded a $251K SBIR Phase I grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to expand the platform to neonate platelet function testing. To round out the year, FloBio received a $256K SBIR Phase I award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and an investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, in support of advancing device design, manufacturing, and product development.
Ghost Robotics, co-founded by Avik De, PhD, and Gavin Kenneally, graduates of the Penn School of Engineering and Applied Science, develops unstoppable, agile and all-weather autonomous 4-leg robots (quadrupedal or Q-UGVs) offering superior operability over wheeled and tracked devices on unstructured terrain in rough and demanding environments. The company, headquartered at Pennovation Works, deployed over 100 of its robot dogs during 2020 – an accomplishment even more impressive when considering the challenges of this year.
In September, Ghost Robotics was featured on CNN after their Vision 60 prototypes were used during a US military, Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. By December, the robot dogs were deployed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which is the first base in the U.S. to integrate the robots full time. The high-tech canines will patrol the base, replacing stationary security cameras and allow defenders to focus on training, security and overall situational awareness across the base. In addition to working with the military in 2020, Ghost Robotics also had the opportunity to participate in 5G Studio at Newlab – a newly launched program presented by Verizon and Newlab- which enables startups, including Ghost Robotics and Exyn Technologies, to leverage Verizon 5G to transform industries like industrial automation, energy, and more. The company designs robots that “feel the world”, able to stay balanced regardless of terrain – and Ghost Robotics has embodied that this year, by displaying their own stability and adaptability during a time full of extremely challenging terrain.
Linnaeus Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of novel small molecule oncology therapeutics, co-founded by Christopher Natale, PhD, Vice President of Research at Linnaeus and Todd Ridky, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Penn School of Medicine .
In June of 2020, the FDA granted Fast Track designation for the company’s lead product candidate, LNS8801, for the treatment of patients with metastatic or unresectable melanoma who have progressed on or after anti-programmed cell death receptor or ligand therapy. LNS8801 is a first-in-class, orally bioavailable small molecule that is a highly specific and potent agonist of the G-protein estrogen receptor (GPER). October brought a momentous milestone for Linnaeus, as the first patient was dosed in their phase I/II adaptive-design clinical trial of its lead-product-candidate, LNS8801, in combination with KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), in patients who had previous clinical benefit from immune checkpoint inhibitors and then subsequently progressed. Patrick Mooney, MD, CEO of Linnaeus said, “We believe that LNS8801 with pembrolizumab has the potential to provide meaningful clinical benefit for patients with cancer, and we look forward to providing updates over the course of the study.” Over the next year Linnaeus plans to open more phase II clinical trials exploring LNS8801 activity as a monotherapy and in combination with other compounds in defined patient populations.
Quantitative Radiology Solutions LLC (QRS) co-founded by Jay Udupa, PhD, and Drew Torigian, MD, of Perelman School of Medicine -Radiology was selected as a finalist for the PACT 2020 Enterprise Awards in the Healthcare Innovator category. QRS enables body-wide analysis of medical images to inform cancer treatment decisions.
Joe Camaratta, CEO of QRS, was featured on an episode of Money Matters, where he talked about the company’s unique Automatic Anatomy Recognition (AAR) software that can recognize and delineate anatomical objects and diseased tissue in multiple body regions in MRI, CT, and PET/CT images. QRS was awarded an additional $252K STTR grant from National Cancer Institute (NCI) to expand AAR to disease quantification. In October, the company completed a 214 patient clinical evaluation of AAR at 4 academic medical centers, and submitted their first product for FDA 510K clearance in December. A major milestone for the entire QRS team!
Onocor – Awarded $3M NIH Phase II STTR
Paradigm Surgical – Awarded $1.5M NIH Phase II SBIRLearn More
Prohibix – Awarded $1.9M NIH Phase II SBIRLearn More
Peroxitech – Awarded $300K NIH Phase I STTRLearn More
Axonova – Awarded $2.9M NIH Phase II SBIRLearn More
Cogwear – Received a grant through BFTP’s Save Our Startups initiativeLearn More
OsciFlex – Awarded $1.7M NIH Phase II SBIR and closed $375K seed roundLearn More
Neuralert – Received $42.5K in grants and seed funding from local fundersLearn More
Chip – Raised $600K seed investmentLearn More
Nia Therapeutics – Closed $1.5M seed investmentLearn More
EnaChip – Raised $1M seed investment from strategic partnerLearn More
Innervace – Raised $1.1M seed investmentLearn More
SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program – $1.2M in PPP funding received across 10 portfolio companies
New PCIV Supported Companies
Facility temperature management technology to reduce energy usage and help save the planet.
Revolutionizing and developing next generation endoscopic equipment, accessories and gastrointestinal tubes.
Development and manufacture of disinfection devices for radiology equipment with an emphasis on the MRI space.
Developing a platform of steerable transbronchial tools that enable fine articulation and precise access to peripheral lung nodules in the airway and in the parenchyma.
A diagnostic test to assess the status of the immune system.
Developing gene therapies to treat genetic causes of blindness.
Developing a universal CAR-T targeting system for the treatment of relapse and refractory solid tumors.
Eric Corkhill is a 40-year veteran of the healthcare IT industry dedicated to developing clinical applications and products that improve decision making or care delivery. He is a serial entrepreneur who has experienced repeated success, with five of his previous companies exiting with a combined value of close to $500 million—Neuralert Technologies will be his 7th startup. Neuralert’s ability to address the worldwide problem of death and debilitation caused by delays in treating strokes struck a chord with Eric, and motivated him to join the founders Dr. Steven Messe and Dr. James Weimer, and CTO, Det Ansinn, to execute on the company’s vision. “Stroke is a treatable event,” Eric explained, “but only if care is delivered in time. Neuralert’s ability to successfully detect stroke symptoms and speed treatment has the potential to save thousands of lives a year. Just as importantly, Neuralert can help people retain their health and independence, and make a return to their normal lives faster.” The Neuralert team completed a successful test of their technology in 2019 at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania and are starting their second study in 2021. In parallel, the company will be approaching the FDA to seek clearance for Neuralert device towards delivering better care for patients at risk of stroke.
Shelley Berger, Ph.D.
Shelley Berger, Ph.D., is the Daniel S. Och University Professor at University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and is a faculty member in the Cell & Developmental Biology Department and the Genetics Department in the Perelman School of Medicine, as well as the Biology Department in the School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Berger also serves as founding and current director of the Epigenetics Institute at Penn School of Medicine. In 2019, Dr. Berger with Philipp Mews, PhD, a graduate student at the time in the Berger Lab, founded EpiVario based on their research utilizing neuroepigenetics to develop novel treatments for a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, including PTSD, anxiety, drug addiction and other addictive behaviors. For Dr. Berger, one of the most rewarding aspects of working on EpiVario is the potential impact it can have on society. “There are, sadly, enormous numbers of people world-wide suffering from these conditions”, says Dr. Berger, “Our approach could help to alleviate the powerful negative impacts on the health and lives of individuals and their families.” This is the core mission of EpiVario that drives progress forward. Even during a year like 2020, with the challenges brought by a global pandemic, the company has advanced their pre-clinical research in both addiction and anxiety. EpiVario was also selected as a finalist in 2020 for the “Nature Spinoff Prize” jointly awarded by Nature/Merck to recognize excellence in academic entrepreneurs. Dr. Berger displays her strong leadership skills by noting the team effort involved in the startup’s success. “I am also proud of our team of founders, our CEO Thomas Kim who is truly dedicated to our mission, our great group of advisors, both scientific and business, and our wonderful collaborators who extend our ability to test important questions in the best pre-clinical models.” As an academic leader and entrepreneur, Dr. Berger welcomes the opportunity to learn from each step of her startup experience and eagerly shares those lessons learned with her peers and students at Penn.
The PCIV Team has been an exceptional partner to FloBio since the company’s inception. Over my two and a half years with FloBio, I have had the privilege of working with some of the most skilled, supportive, and business minded individuals on the PCIV Team. Our Business Lead, Bhavana Mohanraj, has played an invaluable role as business advisor while actively participating as a core member of the FloBio Team! PCIV and Bhavana have made this journey all the more rewarding for me as a first-time entrepreneur.
Jerri Ann Thatcher, CEO of FloBio
So, we were facing what is not an unusual challenge in academia. We had an exciting set of ideas, each with great potential to advance the field both in programmatic and research directions. Yet from a faculty position alone, we had limited means by which to scale them out. Nor really did we have the time nor expertise to figure all that out creatively. With our colleagues at PCI Ventures, though, we were able to keep focused on working the ideas, and then tap their deep expertise and welcoming, warm candor, allowing us to scale out in ways otherwise not possible. That scaling out has allowed for much greater impact of our collective thinking, while making possible greater social impact as well as research into some fundamental professional behaviors. I’m very grateful for all the experience and guidance PCI has made available to us, and with very good humor throughout!
Dr. Michael Johanek, Founder of School Sims, LLC, and Sapience Leadership, LLC; Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Education; Director, Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership
For close to a decade I have had the honor of working with PCI Ventures staff and their associated companies. It’s truly an amazing feeling to be a part of the early stages of company evolution and work on new tactics to help format the business banking segment. The team directed by Michael Poisel is always knowledgeable, courteous, and willing to go above the standard in order to cater to the various companies. I am impressed more and more every year by learning the challenges that the teams overcome in order to get their priceless ideas turned into full strength companies. Without PCI Ventures many of these new companies would not be able to develop into self-standing businesses. I look forward to the next decade of partnerships and our joint commitment to grow together.