Health & Science

Texas Medical Center Launches 21 Medical and Biotech Start-Ups

The first round of medical and biotech companies has finished TCMx, a six-month business accelerator in Houston.


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TMC president Dr. Robert Robbins introduces presenters from 21 start-up companies during "Demo Day." on Sept. 10, 2015.
TMC president Dr. Robert Robbins introduces presenters from 21 start-up companies during “Demo Day.” on Sept. 10, 2015.
In March, the Texas Medical Center created TCMx, a business accelerator program focused on medical start-ups and biotechnology. Twenty-one fledgling companies were invited to take part.

TCMx provided a suite of services and resources to the fledgling companies, which are trying to bring new devices, software and biotech products to the healthcare and hospital market. TCMx does not provide any seed money to the companies, but the entrepreneurs get lots of help. The resources included free office space in the medical center, mentors and networking events, and classes on the regulatory process used by the FDA to approve a new surgical device.

"There are so many accelerators around," said Dr. Robert Robbins, TMC president and CEO. "The uniqueness of ours is number one, we're in the shadows, or embedded, in the middle of the world's largest medical center. Secondly, we give free space. Third, we don't take any equity in the companies."

During a "Demo Day" on September 10, the start-up presidents pitched their new products to a crowd that included medical center doctors and potential investors. The ideas include a new type of medical adhesive and problem-solving software for hospitals and laboratory scientists.

Robbins promoted the idea of a business accelerator after becoming TMC president in 2012.

"The big venture capital firms, they just fly in and pick off technologies that are developed at MD Anderson or Rice or University of Houston or Baylor or whatever. We want to keep those here, so we had to create an ecosystem and an infrastructure to support that and we had to get some investors to move here," Robbins said.

One of the start-ups, Noninvasix, has developed a transvaginal monitor for use during childbirth. It uses laser light to directly measure the amount of oxygen reaching a baby's brain during labor.

Problems during labor can reduce the level of oxygen in a baby's brain, which can lead to cerebral palsy, epilepsy and mental retardation. Obstetricians try to gauge oxygen levels by using an indirect measurement from a fetal heartrate monitor. But the measurement is inadequate and obstetricians often try to play it safe by ordering an emergency C-section, said Graham Randall, CEO of Noninvasix.

"The problem we're addressing is the fact that the fetal heart rate monitor has an 89% false positive rate and that drives a lot of unnecessary C-sections," Randall said.

The technology itself was invented by two doctors at UTMB in Galveston, with funding from the NIH and Department of Defense, according to Randall. But the doctors needed help to figure out what to do with it.

"I met the founders in 2012 and they asked me what I thought they should do with the technology," Randall said. "I googled ‘brain hypoxia and malpractice' and the Internet lit up. There are literally tens of thousands of law firms out there encouraging parents to sue their obstetrician because of their baby's brain injury."

Randall said taking part in the TMCx accelerator helped him meet with doctors at Texas Children's Hospital. He's been able to refine and test the monitor there. The company was also chosen to be a part of a government-funded consortium promoting innovation in pediatrics.

The next group of TCMx start-ups has not been announced yet, but the focus of the second round will be on digital health.

The Texas Medical Center is also supporting individual inventors as well as start-up companies. The newly-launched Biodesign program will pay eight people to spend an academic year in Houston studying a health problem and designing a potential new solution. The program is modeled after one at Stanford University, where Robbins previously worked.


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