A fund created to help support San Antonio biomedical companies announced its first recipients Friday. The San Antonio Economic Development Corporation (SAEDC) has chosen EmergenceMed, GaitIQ, and Renovo Concepts as the first recipients of financial support from the San Antonio Military Medical Innovation (SAMMI) Fund.
The City of San Antonio established the fund in December 2019 to support local companies commercializing discoveries in medical devices, new drugs, and biotechnology and biomedical software that can meet military medical mission needs.
The SAEDC board approved Tuesday $50,000 awards for each of the three biomedical innovators looking to collaborate with the military medical community, said Corey Levenson, the city’s military medical innovation director.
SAEDC created the director role in October to help coordinate and align economic development strategies with San Antonio’s unique military medical assets. The fund is one of the recommendations enacted from the Military Life Science Commercialization Action Plan adopted by the city in August 2018.
According to Levenson, SAEDC received seven applications in the first round, with four companies chosen to present to the selection committee. The money will be in the form of a convertible promissory note with a three-to-five-year term depending on the loan amount and current stage of the company.
The optional conversion feature allows San Antonio EDC to secure equity under certain circumstances or have the company pay back the note with interest. The financial terms will be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the maturity of the company and other factors. The company will receive portions based on achieving certain project milestones.
Interested innovators may apply to the next round, which closes Oct. 31.
While the SAMMI fund focuses on early-stage companies, established businesses are also eligible, Levenson said.
Strengthening collaboration among stakeholders in San Antonio’s economic development, military medicine, and bioscience companies can “help support the emergence of more new companies invested in bringing discoveries to the market and generate more bioscience entrepreneurial activity,” Levenson said.
The three biomedical companies
GaitIQ is a primary healthcare cloud-based application using machine learning and artificial intelligence software designed to detect early signs of dementia (and 2019 San Antonio startup to watch).
Musculoskeletal injuries are the top health problem across the military services, said CEO Rick Morris. “These injuries cause 25 million days of limited duty each year.”
The fund’s seed investment will enable GaitIQ to pursue local military collaboration to develop a customized approach for the prediction, prevention, and monitoring of lower-limb injuries in military personnel.
EmergenceMed is developing a one-size-fits-all emergency medical suction device for obstructed airways. Dr. Robert De Lorenzo is a professor of emergency medicine at UT Health San Antonio. Last fall, he and his team participated in UT Health’s first cohort of Tech Novum, a technology commercialization accelerator for faculty researchers.
One of the newest biomedical companies in San Antonio, De Lorenzo is working on the “first major update in over 100 years to the breathing tube that is placed into patients,” De Lorenzo said.
“We’re proposing a completely new design to the currently used breathing tube, which is hard to place in patients,” De Lorenzo said. “We’re an airway solutions company that is developing several innovations for the age-old problem of patients who are struggling to breathe.”
Airway compromise is the second leading cause of potentially survivable battlefield deaths. The portable electrically powered systems used currently are too large and heavy to be carried by medics and civilian paramedics. EmergenceMed will use the funding to refine its prototype suction device.
“Our objective is to create a compact, highly portable, and electrically powered suction device for battlefield use,” De Lorenzo said. “This can also help with COVID-19 patients and make intubation faster and easier to reduce healthcare providers’ exposure to the virus while improving patient outcomes.”
Renovo Concepts is developing a Mechanical Tissue Resuscitation (MTR) device for surgeons to reduce the damage caused by inflammation in response to severe traumatic injuries of the brain, heart, and spine. Their equipment helps treat those with traumatic brain injury (TBI), a significant combat casualty for the military. The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) reports nearly 350,000 incident diagnoses of TBI in the U.S. military since 2000.
Renovo Concepts president Charlie Biltz said the funding would go toward prototype development of the therapy unit in preparation for early feasibility trials in early 2021.
“Treatment of severe TBIs has evolved very little over the past decades, there’s very little surgeons can do after they remove part of the scalp,” Biltz said. “Once the brain swells come the secondary injuries and brain tissue starts to die. The MTR is intended to break this cycle of damage to help the brain start healing itself.”
Close collaboration among biomedical stakeholders like SAMMI, BioMedSA, VelotictyTX, SAEDC, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, and the San Antonio Economic Development Department is focused on “shared goals to grow the local life science ecosystem,” said Levenson.
“San Antonio is fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures,” Levenson said. “People who come here are impressed by the biomedical expertise and unique concentration of military medical assets that resides here.”
Featured image is of an Army combat helmet. Photo taken by Israel Palacio on Unsplash.