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Bloomington Companies win New Venture Competition

Bloomington Companies win New Venture Competition

A company striving to find a better treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a startup creating video games to help rehabilitate stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients claimed the top prizes at the recent BioCrossroads New Venture Competition. Aiming to discover the most promising life sciences startups in the state, the competition also awards cash prizes and access to business resources to help smooth the often bumpy road to commercialization.


Leaders of Indianapolis-based Anagin believe the great need for a new method of treating PTSD was one factor that led their startup to win the competition. Co-founder and Indiana University School of Medicine Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Anantha Shekhar says the need to better treat this vulnerable population grows each day.


“There are several areas where there are wars and people coming back from combat duty—that’s the most obvious [need],” says Shekhar. “But there’s been an ongoing epidemic of unrecognized trauma in all kinds of daily living situations—urban trauma and trauma policemen or firefighters face every day.”


Shekhar says current treatments are only effective in about one of every three patients, and the drugs target only the symptoms of PTSD. Anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications are the most commonly prescribed, and Shekhar says they have debilitating side effects. Also led by IU Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences Dr. Yvonne Lai, Anagin says its treatment takes aim at the source of the disease, rather than treating just the symptoms.


“Our treatment works on a very specific nerve cell mechanism that is critical for developing the whole disorder,” says Shekhar. “[Our drug] treats one of the fundamental mechanisms that causes the disease…and disrupts the mechanism within the cell that perpetuates the symptoms.”


In addition to the $25,000 cash prize, BioCrossroads will provide Anagin various business development support services; Anagin leaders say this builds critical momentum for attracting future funding, and ultimately, moving their drug to the marketplace.


“The most exciting part for me is finding a treatment for an illness I’ve struggled to treat for 30 years,” says Shekhar. “It’d be phenomenal if we could find something that really works for PTSD, but if our theory is correct, it might work for many other serious brain diseases. This could open up a whole new field of drugs for brain disorders.”


Capturing second place and the $15,000 prize at the competition, Bloomington-based Wellplay Health says its video game technology will help stroke and TBI patients with the challenging and arduous rehabilitation process. Compliance data shows only 31 percent of patients typically perform rehabilitation exercises as prescribed, says Wellplay Health Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Pete Grogg. Patients face the additional challenge of obtaining sufficient insurance coverage, which Grogg says typically ends after a limited number of therapy sessions and requires patients to show they’re making progress.


Wellplay Health uses the Microsoft Kinect gaming system to create a “virtual” environment where patients can complete rehabilitation exercises. The games, tailored for each patient by their therapist, aim to accomplish the same goals of traditional rehabilitation methods, such as balance, coordination and range of motion.


“The games are more interesting and engaging, so patients get involved and start challenging themselves,” says Grogg. “They have more fun; [the exercises] aren’t as mundane and boring. It’s self-motivating, because [patients] try to better their scores each time.”


Because the technology also tracks patients’ improvements, therapists can show hard evidence of progress to extend insurance coverage.


“Traditionally, [evaluation] is rather subjective and observational; therapists don’t count the number of reps, and they don’t necessarily measure improvements in range of motion, but yet they try to demonstrate to insurance that the patient is making progress and that coverage should be extended,” says Grogg. “Our system provides very strong data that can show insurers the patient is making progress, because we have a very objective means of measuring and tracking that.”


Sintact Medical Systems won third place and $10,000. The company is developing biocompatible films that reduce the likelihood of scar tissue forming after surgical operations. BioCrossroads also awarded a Pre-Venture prize of $10,000 to Spero Energy, which has developed a one-step process for converting biomass into high-value chemicals.


Buoyed by the added funding and exposure during the summit, 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.



Source: Inside INdiana Business

Author: Dana Palazzo

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