The top two winners at BioCrossroads’ recent New Venture Competition aim to impact the lives of the country’s youngest patients. Scioto Biosciences is developing a probiotic—a “good” bacteria—to help battle a disorder common in premature babies, and Daylight OB is creating a simple tool to take some of the danger out of emergency cesarean section (c-section) deliveries.
Indianapolis-based Scioto Biosciences is developing probiotics for a variety of applications, including agriculture, livestock and plants. Because the good bacteria are stronger as a group than individual organisms, the startup “pre-colonizes” them. Scioto is expected to be the first spinout for Indianapolis-based life sciences accelerator Monon Bioventures, LLC.
“We pre-colonize the team [of good bacteria] before we send them in,” says Monon Bioventures and Scioto Chief Executive Officer Joe Trebley. “We create that super team that goes in and persists through the harsh environment of the gut, whereas alone, they’d have no chance to survive within the gut.”
Based on research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the startup’s first technology is a biologic that battles NEC (Necrotizing Enterocolitis), a devastating disease that affects the intestine in premature infants. Because the intestines aren’t fully developed, Trebley says these babies are at risk of having the “nasty disorder,” in which bacteria invade the wall of the intestine, causing local infection and inflammation that can ultimately destroy the wall.
“Premature infants live in a very sterile environment, and they’re not exposed to some of the healthy bacteria you need for healthy development,” says Trebley. “We take a bacteria that’s found in breastmilk and reformulate it to our platform. In animal models, we can essentially eliminate any clinical sign of NEC with a single dose.”
The competition’s runner-up, Daylight OB, is the brainchild of Dr. Rosemary Leitch, an ob-gyn in Fort Wayne who believes the tool she created can simplify emergency c-section deliveries. Daylight OB co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Neil Bansal says these high-risk births account for about 7 percent of an ob-gyn’s total deliveries and are associated with “pretty scary outcomes for moms and babies.”
In an emergency c-section, the baby has already progressed down the birth canal, making the head impossible to reach; the baby needs to be moved back up the birth canal, so the doctor can have access to its head during the c-section.
“[An emergency c-section] typically happens hours into the labor process,” says Bansal. “So the mother’s exhausted, the baby’s already had a lot of stress and their heart rate is starting to drop, there’s been a lot of blood loss for the mother, so they really need to get the baby out. But it’s now lodged in a very difficult position. [Dr. Leitch] kept coming into the same scary situation and was trying to find a solution that could make this better.”
Bansal says, typically, a nurse will have to get on his or her knees and use their hand to push the baby back up the birth canal. However, Leitch has designed a simple, disposable tool she believes will make the process safer and more convenient. The Daylight device has a silicone disc on top that’s about seven centimeters in diameter and is connected to a curved handle.
“It’s very simple; the device is placed on the baby’s head,” says Bansal, “and the assistant can push up to reposition it while maintaining the same tactile control they have with their hand and have clear communication with the delivery physician.”
Bansal says the $15,000 in prize money “probably means more to us than other medical device developers,” because Daylight is relatively inexpensive to develop and produce, due to its simplicity. After further design testing, Daylight OB plans to begin manufacturing the devices for initial use in humans.
As the winner of the competition, Scioto Biosciences plans to use $25,000 in prize money to complete its pre-clinical phase; Trebley notes the funding is also critical validation.
West Lafayette-based VinSense won the third place $10,000 prize, followed by the pre-venture winner Rusher Medical. VinSense is commercializing a software to help grape growers create crop uniformity for making wine, and Rusher Medical is developing a device that helps people with compromised lung function.
Having just completed its fifth year, the competition has awarded more than $250,000 to 20 startups, leading to $21 million in follow-up funding. Buoyed by the prize money and exposure during the event, BioCrossroads is hopeful the handful of promising startups will mature into successful companies that will fuel the next generation of growth in Indiana's life sciences industry.
Trebley believes Scioto’s technology will have a relatively quick path to the market and soon be helping premature babies