A start-up commercializing biomedical technology developed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for wound healing and tissue regeneration is one of four finalists in this year's Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) international business plan contest.
VitaThreads launched in 2012 to commercialize the pioneering research of George Pins and Glenn Gaudette, who are both associate professors of biomedical engineering at WPI. The company is developing biopolymer microthreads that can be used as therapies and as delivery vehicles for cells to treat conditions that range from common sports injuries to heart attacks. VitaThreads will present its business plan and field questions from a panel of judges on March 1 in San Antonio, Texas, at the AUTM Venture Forum, which is part of the group's 2013 annual global meeting. The winning company will receive a $10,000 cash prize.
"We are very excited about this opportunity to tell our story and present our business plan to some of the industry's top investors and business development experts," said Adam Collette, vice president of product development at VitaThreads, who will be making the presentation at AUTM. "I think it speaks highly of the technology and of the work our team has done to get the company to this point."
With over 3,000 members from 300 universities, research institutions, and business development groups, AUTM is the premier international professional organization promoting the commercialization of technologies that emerge from academic research. This year, 30 companies entered the business plan competition. After two rounds of review, four were selected as finalists.
"We were impressed by the quality of companies represented in this year's competition, and we're thrilled to provide a high-profile platform to showcase these exciting companies that are born from academic research," Stephen Susalka, assistant vice president at AUTM, said in a media release announcing the finalists. "The AUTM Annual Meeting is the largest gathering of academic technology commercialization professionals under one roof, and is a unique opportunity for venture capitalists to access the latest academic breakthroughs ripe for investment."
About the width of a human hair, the microthreads VitaThreads produces are made of collagen, fibrin, and other biologic materials. The microthreads can be braided into cable-like structures that mimic natural tissues like tendons, ligaments, and muscle fibers. First developed in Pins's lab as a potential tool for repairing torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) in the knee, the microthreads were adapted by Pins and Gaudette for use as biological sutures to deliver bone marrow–derived stem cells to regenerate cardiac muscle damaged during a heart attack. Other WPI labs are using the threads, seeded with varying cell types, as scaffolds for wound healing and skeletal muscle regeneration, among other purposes.
"The VitaThreads case is a great example of how WPI strives to accelerate innovation and develop ideas into products that meet important needs," said Todd Keiller, director of technology transfer at WPI and a member of AUTM.
Pins and Gaudette are co-founders of the company and serve as scientific advisors to the VitaThreads management team, which includes co-founders Collette and CEO Harry Wotton '94. The company began operations within WPI's Bioengineering Institute and has since moved to its own space within the Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI) incubator facility at Gateway Park in Worcester. Its first clinical target is to develop a new treatment for Achilles tendon injuries.
"This is a special opportunity to put WPI and our technology on an international stage, in front of a group of people who can help bring these potential new therapies to the clinic," Pins said. "Just making the final four in this level of competition already feels like a win."
The other finalists in the competition are BioReplicon, which is developing clinical diagnostic tests based on technology from the University of Texas at Austin and Gang-Gung University; Iowa Approach, which is developing a device to treat heart arrhythmias based on technology from the University of Iowa; and Retectix, which is developing a surgical mesh product based on technology from Washington University in St. Louis.
"We are in very good company with the other finalists, and we feel honored to have made it this far," Gaudette said. "It's also interesting that all of the finalists this year are biomedical technologies. That, I think, shows the growing impact of integrating engineering and life sciences expertise to create new therapies that help people, which is precisely our mission here at WPI."