Deal Flow

New incubator lab space builds bridge to success for academic spinouts

ProThera Biologics, Ryon Technologies are first tenants at former Fuji Film building being managed by Slater Technology Fund

Photo by Richard Asinof

Dr. Yow-Pin Lim talks with Rep. Jim Langevin at ProThera Biologics' new commercial lab facility at the former Fuji Film building, where Slater Technology Fund has created a commercial lab incubator.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 4/28/14
By creating a commercial lab incubator space for spinout companies from academic labs, Slater Technology Fund has filled a critical gap in Rhode Island’s innovation ecosystem, increasing the likelihood of deal flow for biotech and biomedical companies. The two first tenants at the former Fuji Film building in East Providence, ProThera Biologics and Ryon Technologies, are promising companies backed by Slater, coming out of academic research labs and supported by federal SBIR and STTR research grants.
What kind of additional state and federal resources can be leveraged to support this kind of critical investment in infrastructure? How can the new commercial lab incubator space serve as a catalyst for more collaborative research opportunities between academic and private companies? Are there additional opportunities to create Rhode Island-based test beds for new technology developed by local companies? In addition to Langevin’s tour, are there plans to bring some of the legislative leaders on a tour of the facility to help them better understand the potential of the biotech industry in Rhode Island?
The potential development opportunities in East Providence can create additional synergy with the growth of Rhode Island’s knowledge economy as well as the state’s creative economy. The potential to link the riverfront in East Providence to the East Side by foot bridge and by improved public transit might be explored. Students at Roger Williams University recently completed a project looking at the possibilities of a creating an arts district along the East Providence waterfront. More than just highway infrastructure, the state’s economic development leaders could consider investing in infrastructure that would create more human interaction. And, finally move to bury the power lines.

EAST PROVIDENCE – Dr. Yow-Pin Lim’s early stage company, ProThera Biologics, has compiled an impressive track record in securing about $7 million in federal preclinical research grants since it was founded in 2002, backed by an initial $100,000 investment by the Slater Technology Fund.

But Lim’s company’s ability to leap across chasm and evolve into a successful biomedical firm, capturing the equity financing needed to compete in the market, has been given a big lift by its new commercial research lab facility it now rents at the former Fuji Film building at 200 Massasoit Avenue. The firm currently has six employees working there. 

Slater Technology Fund, in partnership with Fuji Film, has created a new incubator commercial lab space for academic laboratory spinouts, filling a critical gap in the innovation ecosystem in Rhode Island. The first two tenants are Prothera Biologics and Ryon Technologies.

The building had served as R&D facility for Fuji Film to develop electronic materials until the company relocated to larger facilities at Quonset.

“It has become clearly apparent that this was a critical need for these academic labs, to give them the confidence of spinning out,” said Richard Horan, managing partner at Slater. “They need a commercial lab, but they can’t afford to build their own lab. What they really need is a facility that is reasonably outfitted that they can move into and rent on a short-term basis and scale up from there. Or wind down, if the project doesn’t move forward.”

On April 24, with Ryon Technologies, ProThera Biologics and Slater serving as hosts, Rep. Jim Langevin toured the facility and then met with Lim for about 40 minutes to learn more about the company’s potential to introduce a biologic solution to combat multiple diseases that cause systemic inflammation.

On the cusp
Prothera has developed a new biologic – Inter-alpha Inhibitor Proteins – a naturally occurring, broad-spectrum protease inhibitor. The biologic has shown strong potential in treating a range of life-threatening inflammatory diseases, including dengue fever, anthrax and bacterial sepsis.

Prothera has also forged relationships with an impressive group of about 15 clinical and academic research scientists who are serving as collaborators and advisors.

They include: Dr. James Padbury, from Women & Infants Hospital and Brown, working on neonatal sepsis; Dr. Stephen Opal, from Memorial Hospital and Brown Medical School, working on sepsis and biodefense; Dr. Alan Rothman from the University of Rhode Island, working on dengue; Dr. Barbara Stonestreet from Women & Infants and Brown, working on brain injury; and Dr. Louise McCullough from the University of Connecticut, working on stroke.

ProThera is also in the midst of advanced discussions to form a strategic partnership with a leading player in the blood product industry to insure the flow of high-quality product supply needed to support clinical development and trials. The Inter-alpha Inhibitor is created through a blood fractionation process.

From Lim’s initial work on sepsis, which Richard Horan, managing partner at Slater, likened to “climbing Mount Everest,” noting that more than 30 drugs have failed in Phase III clinical trials over the last three decades, ProThera has refocused on entry into the biodefense sector, targeting recovery from anthrax.

Langevin, whose work in Congress has been focused on security issues, showed great interest in the 2011 preclinical studies on mice that demonstrated that Prothera’s biologic product, when administered with antibiotics one hour after infection from anthrax, resulted in about a 90 percent recovery rate.

In addition to the proof-of-concept completed in seven different experimental models, ProThera is also developing as its core technology platform a series of biomarkers in systemic inflammation from bacterial and viral causes, as well as a diagnostic marker for neonatal sepsis.

In addition to the initial $100,000 research grant, Slater has invested an additional $500,000 in equity in ProThera Bilogics.

Unambiguous chemical analysis
Ryon Technologies, a Brown University academic lab spinout, has developed new technology to perform what it calls “unambiguous chemical analysis” using Rydberg Fingerprint Spectroscopy. It enables rapid molecular identification for trace analysis of environmental pollutants, emissions monitoring, and breath analysis.

The company is now developing the design and fabrication of a second-generation Rydberg Fingerprint Spectrometer, a bench-top spectrometer that will enable rapid identification of a range of molecules, from dioxins to chemical threats.

Future miniaturization is planned.

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