BioMendics lines up $7M, tests wound-healing gel - Crain's Cleveland Business
Karen McGuire described it as an “oh my goodness” moment.
A few years ago, she received the results of an experiment designed to test whether the gel that she and her colleagues created might actually be able to heal wounds.
And the results were good: The mice in the experiment received wounds that would typically take 14 days to heal. But when the liquid crystal-based gel was applied, the wounds closed in five to seven days, McGuire said. That’s when she decided to approach her colleagues about starting a business.
That business, BioMendics LLC, has lined up about $7 million in capital from 30 individual investors, including Bob Hurwitz, who’s best known as one of the founders of OfficeMax. BioMendics has already received about a third of that money, and the rest will be released as it completes more animal trials. It also recently raised $250,000 from JumpStart, a nonprofit that works with local entrepreneurs.
Hurwitz, the largest investor, now serves as chairman of BioMendics. So what drove him to back the company — and recruit so many other investors to do the same?
For one, not only did the TegaSure gel produce strong results in its first test, but Hurwitz noted that the technology could possibly be used to treat other conditions.
BioMendics, which is based in the REDIzone business incubator at Northeast Ohio Medical University, is already in the early stages of developing topical drugs for hair loss, psoriasis and acne, but the potential is even broader. The molecule at the heart of the TegaSure gel was designed to mimic resveratrol, a molecule in peanuts and grapes that some researchers say helps prevent and fight cancer. And on its website, BioMendics says that TegaSure has antiviral, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Despite the technology’s promise, Hurwitz admits that investing in pharmaceutical startups is always risky. Lots of drugs do well in animal tests only to fail when tested on humans.
But he also noted that BioMendics’ four founders — all Ph.D scientists — understand the technology well.
Three of them are retired and serve in an advisory role. The fourth, McGuire, is a highly coachable CEO, Hurwitz said.
He first saw her give a presentation about the company at a JumpStart event designed to link experienced business people with local entrepreneurs in need of a mentor. Hurwitz said that, afterward, he “made a beeline to her desk.”
McGuire, 33, admits that she has a lot to learn from Hurwitz. After all, she hadn’t planned on becoming an entrepreneur.
After earning her biomedical engineering degree from the University of Toledo in 2006, McGuire was hired as a technician in the lab of Chun-che Tsai, a now-retired chemistry and biochemistry professor at Kent State University.
It was a good career move, to say the least: Through that job, she got to know the three researchers who would become her cofounders: Tsai; James Jamison, a cell biologist who previously conducted research at Summa Health System; and Jack Summers, who spent more than 20 years serving as chairman of NEOMED’s department of urology.
They worked together on other drugs, such as a liquid crystal-based cancer drug called Apatone, before starting BioMendics.
The seed for the company was planted roughly seven years ago, during a group conversation about an experiment Tsai had led earlier in his career. The experiment was supposed to determine whether a different liquid crystal compound could be used to fight herpes. The mice it was tested on had the virus inserted into deep scratches in their skin.
But photos from the experiment made it look like the scratches were healing faster than expected.
“I was like, ‘Are you seeing what I’m seeing?’ ” McGuire said.
The group incorporated BioMendics in November 2014, and a month later the company won a $25,000 grant from the Innovation Fund at Lorain County Community College. While making a pitch for that grant, McGuire met officials from JumpStart and NEOMED’s REDIzone incubator.
The company moved into the incubator about a year ago, with the help of an investment from Summers and a small loan from Hurwitz. They’re currently conducting one pig study at NEOMED, and through a third-party company, they’ve completed another pig study and are about to start a toxicology study involving pigs and rats.
Evidence collected so far suggests that the gel doesn’t bother the skin, McGuire said.
“We were on par with baby shampoo,” she said.
So why start a company? Why not just license out the technology, like they did with Apatone more than a decade ago?
McGuire noted that she wants to do everything she can to ensure that the new technology makes it to the market. One reason why: She feels an obligation to her cofounders. After all, they listened to her ideas, and when she was too broke to pay for graduate school, they helped her get a five-year stipend that allowed her to do research while earning a Ph.D in cellular and molecular biology from Kent State.
And those cofounders — especially Tsai — spent many years doing the research that laid the groundwork for BioMendics.
“I didn’t want to see 30, 40 years of Dr. Tsai’s work just languish and get forgotten about,” she said.