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Maryland’s only hospital-based bioincubator making inroads

Pothik Chatterjee, assistant vice president for innovation, LifeBridge Health, and Daniel Lunz, CEO of Capsulomics, in the Capsulomics lab at the LifeBridge Health BioIncubator at Sinai Hospital. (Courtesy LifeBridge Health)

Celebrating its five-year anniversary the LifeBridge Health Bioincubator has landed nearly $60 million in funding from 36 grants and received 36 patents. Serving as the state’s only hospital-based bioincubator, the facility has launched several companies with potentially groundbreaking technologies, including gene therapy for cystic fibrosis, an ingestible capsule for the early detection of esophageal cancer, and an ultrasound-enabled bedside feeding tube.

Here’s a look at some of the companies and the research they’re conducting.

Hunterian Medicine

Hunterian Medicine, LLC, a gene therapy company founded by Dr. Vinod Jaskula-Ranga, uses CRISPR, a genetic engineering tool that employs a sequencing of DNA and its associated protein to edit the base pairs of the gene. Jaskula-Ranga and his team have developed a CRISPR technology that uses one adeno-associated virus (AAV) that fit within the cargo capacity.

Their technology enables scientists to target more regions in the human genome – which have historically been unable to be reached through AAV.

In May 2021, Hunterian was awarded the Therapeutics Development Award from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to research Hunterian’s CRISPR technologies for cystic fibrosis gene therapies. The technologies have applications across the gene board.

“Technologies like CRISPR gene-editing, artificial intelligence and synthetic biology are making cures for genetic diseases possible for the first time in history.  I cannot think of any area that is more exciting or more fulfilling,” said Jaskula-Ranga. “We believe Hunterian’s technology has the potential to unlock treatments – and even cures – for numerous genetic diseases that affect millions of people.

‘We continue to expand our internal research and development pipeline, while looking to partner and collaborate on additional programs that add value and build momentum. Our focus is on enabling broad therapeutic development on a global basis for diseases with significant unmet needs.”

Capsulomics

Another company taking advantage of the bioincubator program is Capsulomics, a molecular diagnostics company co-founded by Dr. Stephen Meltzer and Dan Lunz. Their technology, capsulomic, is a swallowable, retrievable capsule that is combined with a DNA methylation biomarker panel to detect esophageal cancer.

Meltzer has spent over 30 years specializing in the treatment and care of patients with esophageal cancer at Johns Hopkins and and saw the need for a non-invasive, accessible early detection device. Lunz approached him to expand access to their technology.

“Preliminary studies suggest that early tests can detect and predict progression more accurately than diagnostics that are currently available. Their approach is a swallowable capsule as a way to screen for esophageal cancer. The current method used is an upper endoscopy which is much more invasive for the patient,” said Pothik Chatterjee, assistant vice president of innovation for the Lifebridge Health Bioincubator.

The capsule test can be administered in a typical doctor’s office. The current method for patients with chronic acid reflux, which is roughly 18 million people in the U.S., is to undergo an upper endoscopic screening.  Acid reflux can turn into Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.  Less than 10% of patients do this, unless specific symptoms are present.

As a result, most patients do not receive an early diagnosis, which can be lifesaving.

The Capsulomics team aims to bridge the socioeconomic gap by helping a wider range of people beat cancer through earlier detection and cancer. The company aims to use this technology to detect other cancers in the future.

CoapTech

CoapTech, one of the bioincubator’s first graduates, successfully developed the first FDA-cleared bedside feeding tube using a PUMA (Point-of-care Ultrasound Magnet Aligned) System. The first product application, PUMA-G was used for ultrasound gastronomy in adults, which lessened the time in which a patient waited to have a feeding tube placed.

Prior to the technology, gastronomy tubes were placed within an operating suite or using a mobile endoscopy tower – both requiring multiple staff. This often meant patients were waiting several days before they would have their feeding tubes placed.

The device was invented by Dr. Steven Tropello, an emergency and critical care physician, after he became frustrated that he wasn’t able to immediately treat a patient with a feeding tube malfunction. His creation of the Coaptive Ultrasound has led to the PUMA-G FDA-cleared device.

A recent peer-review study published in the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine, found that the CoapTech PUMA-G device reduced the length of intensive care hospital stays to 5 days, and total hospital costs per patient were reduced by an average of $26,621. The savings per patients translates to an annualized $2.5 million cost reduction for the hospital.

Tropello and the CoapTech team have also just received FDA approval to initiate a clinical trial for their PUMA-G Peds System, a device designed to provide a safer and more efficient way to place feeding tubes in children.

Since graduating from the bioincubator program, CoapTech moved to the Port Covington Launchport at City Garage, Chatterjee said.