PCIV Spotlight 2022
The PCI Ventures 2022 Annual Report
About PCI Ventures
We provide a wide-ranging suite of products and services to support 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 portfolio companies and investors to provide funding for new ventures in development.Learn More
PCI Ventures, a division of the Penn Center for Innovation, helps maximize the potential of Penn’s pioneering research to benefit the University, the investigative team, and society through the creation and stimulus of entrepreneurial endeavors at Penn.
- Addressable market analysis
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- Commercialization grant assistance
- Marketing material development
- Company registration
- Education programs
- Entrepreneur coaching
- Executive-level recruitment
- Fundraising support
- IP strategy development
- Legal agreement templates
- Mentors in residence
- Preferred vendor relations
- Strategic partner outreach
- Weekly office hours
By the Numbers
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new companies supported by PCI Ventures
Companies generating revenue
Raised by 19 PCIV-sponsored companies
in portfolio company-sponsored research funding to Penn
FDA 510(k) clearances by PCIV portfolio companies
Years of operations
Companies have received funding
cumulatively raised in funding
in PCIV company-sponsored research at Penn
unique sources of company funding
FDA 510(k) clearances by PCIV portfolio companies
Carisma Therapeutics, co-founded by Michael Klichinsky, MD, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at Carisma and Saar Gill, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania, 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.
Carisma began 2022 by announcing a strategic collaboration agreement with Moderna Inc. to discover, develop and commercialize in vivo engineered chimeric antigen receptor monocyte (CAR-M) therapeutics for the treatment of cancer. In September, Novartis announced an initial agreement with Carisma to manufacture the HER2 targeted CAR-M cell therapy, which is tested in initial trials for the treatment of solid tumors.
In the fall of 2022, Carisma Therapeutics and Sesen Bio announced that they had entered into a definitive merger agreement to combine the companies in an all-stock transaction. “The proposed merger represents an exciting opportunity for shareholders of each company, and we believe it gets us one step closer to our goal of revolutionizing the field of immunotherapy,” said Steven Kelly, President and Chief Executive Officer of Carisma.
Neuroscience focused spinout Cogwear was co-founded by Michael Platt , PhD, Director of the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative and James S. Riepe University Professor at The University of Pennsylvania and Arjun Ramakrishnan, Assistant Professor of biological sciences and bioengineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. The company has developed a wearable device that delivers clinical-grade detection of a subject’s cognitive health powered by nanotechnology sensors, machine learning, and breakthrough neuroscientific research. In late fall, Cogwear announced its partnership with the Penn AI and Tech Collaboratory for Health Aging (PennAITech) to test physiological detection and monitoring for Alzheimer’s Disease using its novel technology.
Cogwear ended the year by announcing that GlassView, an independent video advertising distribution and performance platform, had made a strategic investment in Cogwear to advance its new neuromarketing headband. Cogwear’s patent-pending device senses emotions and other physiological feedback directly from the brain in real time. As part of the strategic investment, Glassview will outfit thousands of volunteers with Cogwear’s patented headbands in the coming 12-36 months to measure neurofeedback and test user engagement in consumer settings. The investment will also support Cogwear’s research and commercialization in its core markets while expanding into this new market segment. Cogwear will also pursue FDA clearance in parallel for use of its headband as a clinical diagnostic tool for anxiety, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
EpiVario is a therapeutic drug discovery and development company that was co-founded by two leaders in the field of neuroepigenetics – Shelley Berger, PhD, Daniel S. Och University Professor at The University of Pennsylvania and her former graduate student Philipp Mews, PhD. The company is pioneering the development of epigenetic therapeutics for neuropsychiatric disorders. EpiVario is actively developing drugs that target a newly discovered epigenetic process involved in long-term memory, with the goal of modulating stress- and drug-related memories to treat PTSD and substance use disorders.
EpiVario received attention over the summer when it was recognized as a finalist for the Falling Walls’ Science Start-ups category which recognizes innovative start-ups that have translated breakthrough scientific thinking into promising business models. The company also highlighted preclinical research findings that could lead to a treatment approach for PTSD. In September, EpiVario announced it had been awarded a NIH Grant of nearly $260,000 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to advance research on its proprietary small molecule inhibitors designed to reduce alcohol craving responses in people with alcohol use disorder to prevent relapse.
Innervace, co-founded by D. Kacy Cullen, PhD, and Douglas Smith, MD, both faculty members in the Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania, is a regenerative therapy company developing anatomically-inspired neural pathways to replace lost connections caused by brain degeneration or traumatic injury. Innervace’s lead program focuses on treating patients with Parkinson’s disease by restoring critical dopamine feedback pathways in the brain. In summer 2022, Innervace closed a $40M Series A financing led by Deerfield Management, which will accelerate Innverace’s clinical development timeline. This exciting financing milestone was also formally recognized by the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) as FY22 Deal of the Year at the seventh annual Celebration of Innovation last fall.
“Innervace is taking a radically different approach by attempting to replace the primary pathway lost in patients with Parkinson’s, thus reinnervating the dopamine circuit lost in this devastating disease”, said Nader Halim, CEO Innervace. “We are extremely excited to build on the science developed in Kacy’s lab and translate it into a potentially new regenerative medicine therapy.”
Wearable device company Neuralert Technologies, co-founded by Steve Messe, MD, of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and James Weimer, PhD, previously with Penn Engineering, is developing a lightweight, non-invasive wristband device to automate stroke detection and alerting. These continuously wearable devices detect the onset of asymmetric movement, a hallmark indicator of stroke, in as little as 15 minutes. Faster detection of stroke symptoms speeds assessment and treatment, saving lives and resulting in better outcomes for patients. Led by CEO Eric Corkhill, and joined by CTO Det Ansinn, Neuralert announced the achievement of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) status in fall 2022, completing the functional arc of stroke detection, data analysis, and medical staff alerting. A clinical trial will be initiated in early 2023 to support the de novo application to the FDA, and the company is hoping for commercial launch of the device as early as 2024.
Neuralert’s stroke detection device was recognized by Time as one of the Best Inventions 2022, and the company was included as one of Philly’s top 20 standout tech companies of 2022 by Technical.ly Philly. Company CEO Eric Corkhill shared “This has been a remarkable year for Neuralert, and we are excited so many organizations have recognized the significant value a wearable stroke detection product can have. We are proud of the progress we made this past year in getting a device to market that can help so many people avoid the devastation caused when a stroke isn’t identified and treated in time”.
Surgical device company ŌNŌCOR was co-founded by Matthew J. Gillespie, M.D., Director of Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and Interventional Cardiology, at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Robert C. Gorman, M.D., Director of Cardiac Surgical Research in the Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania, and Joseph H. Gorman III, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Surgery in the Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania. The company is developing surgical retrieval and remediation technologies for the modern-day catheterization lab. In May, the company received FDA Clearance for its novel endovascular retrieval technology. The device, called the ŌNŌ, is designed to receive, align, compress, and remove suboptimal or embolized devices and other materials from the vascular system.
In August, ŌNŌCOR announced the successful first-in-human use of the ŌNŌ endovascular retrieval system for removal of an intracardiac tumor. Intracardiac tumors affect thousands of patients around the world each year, but prior to ŌNŌ, invasive open-heart surgery was the only available option for this type of tumor removal procedure. “We are delighted that ŌNŌ was able to help the team at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,” said Mark Piper, CEO of ŌNŌCOR. “The ŌNŌ was designed to help safely remove material from the vascular system, so it’s rewarding to hear that the patient in Los Angeles has done well and recovered nicely from this procedure.”
Peroxitech, co-founded by Aron Fisher, MD, and Sheldon Feinstein, PhD, of the Perelman School of Medicine, is a biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of a therapeutic for treatment of acute lung injury. The discovery of a novel signaling pathway related to the oxidative injury cascade led to the identification of PIP-2, a peptide that has demonstrated broad protection and rescue in several preclinical models. In summer 2022, Peroxitech closed its $25M Series A financing to advance therapeutic development through IND-enabling studies and into clinical development.
Peroxitech’s CEO Thomas Han shared his excitement for the future, stating “The data generated to date for PIP-2 represents a potential breakthrough in the prevention and treatment of ALI”. In addition to its lead ALI program, the company is evaluating PIP-2 for other high unmet need areas. Peroxitech was awarded an NIH STTR Phase I grant in spring 2022 to evaluate PIP-2 as a treatment to improve the storage and viability of donor lungs for transplantation.
Serpex Medical is the acquirer of a PCIV-sponsored business co-founded by Mark Yim, PhD, Asa Whitney Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the GRASP Laboratory at Penn Engineering. Serpex seeks to leverage the potential of steerable medical instruments to enable greater precision and access to improve the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. The company’s Compass Steerable Needles enable precise access to lung nodules in the intrapulmonary region.
In August, the company announced the FDA clearance of its Recon Steerable Sheath, a steerable endobronchial tool that offers articulation at the distal tip to enable physicians to access difficult-to-reach areas of the lung anatomy. Shortly after its first clearance, Serpex followed with the announcement of the FDA Clearance of its Steerable Endobronchial Instrument Platform. Sasha Schrode, President and CEO of Serpex Medical, says the company is “excited to deliver another innovative product that empowers clinicians to more successfully diagnose lung cancer at an earlier stage.”
Vital Start Health, co-founded by John Chuo, MD, MS, of the Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania, is the developer of a maternal mental health platform designed to provide equitable, personalized, and clinically guided care for mothers. The company had a very successful 2022 and launched its first product, COURAGE, the first virtual reality enabled, telemedicine platform for maternal mental health and well-being.
Vital Start was among the four companies selected to receive funding from Drexel University and the University City Science Center’s Raynier Seed Fund for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs. The company received several awards throughout 2022, including Citizen Bank’s Small Business Champion Award, 1Philadelphia CBKVentures Pitch Competition winner, and Health & Human Services’ Racial Equity in Postpartum Challenge 2022 Phase 1 Award. Reflecting on the successful year, Kirthika Parmeswaran, CEO of Vital Start said, “We are excited to close out 2022 with this momentum, as we continue to grow and impact reproductive and maternal mental health!”
Other Fundraising Highlights
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Exyn Technologies – Secured $35M Series B FundingLearn More
PhylloPharma – Raised $1.0M from angel investorsLearn More
Axonova Medical – Awarded a NIH Phase I SBIR GrantLearn More
FloBio – Awarded a NIH Phase II SBIR GrantLearn More
Vasowatch – Awarded a NIH STTR Phase I GrantLearn More
Linnaeus Therapeutics – Awarded a $4M Phase II Bridge SBIR Award by the National Cancer Institute of the NIHLearn More
Ostiio – Awarded a NIH Phase I SBIR GrantLearn More
New PCIV Supported Companies
Evinacel (George Xu; PSOM-Path and Lab Medicine) is developing a variety of technologies that enable improved gamma delta T-cell therapy, a novel DR5 CAR construct, and an exosome therapy platform.
Fluorosurgical Biosciences (Jim Delikatny and Sofya Osharovich; UP-SOM-Radiology) is developing precision-medicine tools to increase intraoperative cancer detection for improved tumor resection.
Liquid BioDx (Jay Dorsey and Gary Kao; PSOM-Radiation Oncology) is developing a diagnostic blood test for sensitive detection of circulating tumor cells.
Neurostorative (Justin Burrell and Kacy Cullen; PSOM-Neurosurgery) is developing nerve fusion technology for immediate axonal reconnection and electrical restoration after injury.
Paladai (Eugene Ko;UP-Dental) is developing a dental device that helps babies with cleft palate feed.
Paradigm Analytics (John Fischer; UP-SOM-Surgery) is developing clinically-informed decision-based software to help with identification, stratification, and prioritization of patients for certain types of surgical procedures.
Stage One Immunotherapeutics
Stage One Immunotherapeutics (Malay Haldar; PSOM-Path and Lab Medicine) is developing small molecules that target retinoic acid signaling pathways to treat solid tumors.
Ventru (Rachel Blue and Michael Spadola; PSOM) aims to improve the safety and efficacy of neurosurgical procedures through surgical instrument innovation, currently focusing on improving the accuracy of placing ventricular drains in the brain.
At the beginning of 2022, PCI Ventures launched Venture WarmUP, a new PCI program designed to assist faculty prior to starting a company as they explore different options for technology development and commercialization. Program participants may choose to work with PCI to pursue licensing or R&D alliance opportunities, start a company through PCI Ventures, start a company on their own (or with an outside partner), or simply continue with additional research. The program is already quite popular as evidenced by the following participant projects:
- ACE Genomics (Rahul Kohl; PSOM-Medicine) is developing novel enzymes to assess epigenetic modifications to allow for advanced research tools and diagnostics.
- Cesar de la Fuente (SEAS-Bioengineering) AI platform for discovery of antimicrobial or antibiotic compounds.
- Kurt Brunden & Garret Gibbons (PSOM-Pathology) targeting tau for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease using microtubule stabilizer techology and anti-tau monoclonal antibodies.
- Liberate Bio (Mike Mitchell; SEAS-Bioengineering) is developing a lipid nanoparticle screening platform that utilizes Dr. Mitchell’s barcode technology.
- Beatriz Carreno, Gerald Linette, Bob Vonderheide, & Adham Bear (PSOM) are developing novel TCR therapies to treat mutated KRAS tumors.
Brian Biddulph-Krentar is the CEO of SchoolSims, a SaaS company that produces software simulations designed to prepare and further train current and future school staff. In 2019, after selling his last software company, Brian was connected to SchoolSims founder Ken Spero. As a founder himself, Brian was impressed with Ken’s passion and the two agreed to partner on growing the startup.
Brian initially came on board as the Chief Strategy Officer because his experience in implementing product, marketing and sales playbooks aligned well with Ken’s vision, “to make a difference in how school leaders and teachers are prepared to succeed in challenging jobs. SchoolSims allows these stakeholders to practice in a safe yet realistic environment to improve decision-making and judgment before facing real-world challenges.” Since Brian started at the company, SchoolSims has doubled its simulation library, allowing the company to move into new areas such as simulations for teachers and counselors. By adding these areas, the company has been able to expand its total addressable market opportunity. In 2022, Brian moved into his new role as CEO and is helping to ensure that the company’s growth goals continue to align with Ken’s overall strategic vision. Brian reports that it continues to make for a great partnership and splitting of responsibilities. He finds managing his team the most rewarding aspect of being a CEO. According to Brain, “being honest and bringing your team along for the ride is essential in a startup company.”
Mike Mitchell, PhD
In 2018, Michael Mitchell opened his lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering, where he initiated research into non-viral delivery systems, such as lipid nanoparticles, as a way to target specific cells and tissue types. As a featured participant on a panel at the 2023 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Mitchell shared, “When I started as an academic, I had no intention of starting a company”. Once the pandemic hit, the Mitchell Lab became inundated with requests from different companies, “to make mRNA therapeutics and other types of DNA or RNA cargo a clinical reality”. The Mitchell Lab was able to address these requests through sponsored research agreements and active company partnerships. As requests continued to come in, Mitchell thought, “could we do something bigger here?” That’s when the conversations shifted from big pharma sponsored research agreements into startup company explorations with well-known global VCs. From these conversations, Liberate Bio was born. For Mitchell, the spinout is “a perfect marriage” of his passion to develop exciting platforms that can deliver therapeutic agents to treat diseases with unmet medical need.
“The team at PCI Ventures has been an absolute pleasure to work with. Their passion for supporting the translation of potentially life-saving technologies, and the wealth of industry knowledge and expertise they possess is evident in the guidance and strategic advice they provide to entrepreneurs and faculty. The work they are doing is transforming the ecosystem and we are very proud to be part of it.”
Nishta Rao, Managing Director, Life Science Practice Leader, Business Banking, First Republic Bank
“PCI Ventures enabled ŌNŌCOR’s early corporate formation and initiation of IP activities. Michael Poisel was instrumental in this and other ongoing needs of the company as it developed. ŌNŌCOR was also fortunate in being awarded an NIH grant for funding the company though regulatory approval and this in no small part due to the active participation of our portfolio manager, Michael Dishowitz in the application process. We now look forward to exploring partnerships with key strategic enterprises in our market segment and successful commercialization of the ŌNŌ device.”
Mark Piper, CEO, ŌNŌCOR
“I have been continuously impressed by the dedication and capability of PCI Ventures in providing expertise on the transition from academic projects to commercial ventures. The leadership team provides unparalleled strategic guidance by leveraging their deep know-how in academic start-up organization and operation, their carefully cultivated contacts in venture funding and industry, and the peerless translational ecosystem at Penn. Most recently, support from PCI Ventures was instrumental in allowing Innervace to close on a $40 million A-Round to accelerate the translation of a first-in-class restorative treatment for Parkinson’s disease.”