Ben Franklin News

Ben Franklin Biotech Clients Receive $11,574,461 in Follow-On Funding

An investment from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners is like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for early-stage technology firms. 

Four biotechnology clients of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania have received a total of $11,574,461 in follow-on funding in federal science-based grants. This funding demonstrates the viability of each client’s market offering as well as the company principal’s ability to present his or her company strongly. All four of the Ben Franklin clients are residents of Ben Franklin TechVentures®, located on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. 

The significant follow-on funding also illustrates the value of Ben Franklin’s endorsement and support of firms seeking these funds. “From our rigorous vetting process to our ‘Tiger’ and ‘Scrub’ sessions, we have an outstanding reputation for identifying and advancing promising early-stage firms,” said R. Chadwick Paul, Jr., Ben Franklin’s President and CEO. “We have earned respect in the investment community, and our clients benefit when they seek follow-on funding.” 

These grants are particularly valuable to an early-stage firm because it permits it to receive additional seed funding without reducing the value of the founder’s ownership of the company. This “non-dilutive” funding is extremely advantageous to the company. 

Azevan Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is developing medications for the treatment of stress, mood, and behavior disorders, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and major depression. Azevan’s products utilize vasopressin receptor antagonists as a novel mechanism of action for addressing these indications. 

Azevan received approximately $9,000,000 from 2004 to the present in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants and programmatic support. Azevan’s latest NIH SBIR award is for a potential next-generation therapeutic for depression that targets a different neurochemical system than current drugs. Depression affects 20 million Americans each year, carries an estimated annual total economic burden of $125 billion, and available drugs only help about 50% of patients.

Hager Biosciences, LLC designs and synthesizes proprietary small fragment molecules for modular adaptation into new or existing drug candidate optimization programs. Hager’s FragPhore® discovery platform provides a competitive advantage for rapid medicinal properties optimization as well as intellectual property enhancement.  

Hager received two NIH grants in 2011 and 2013, totaling $674,461 for two projects. The first grant is to develop a therapeutic agent to address substance addictions such as nicotine, and also with potential application to panic and anxiety disorders. Tobacco use is the single largest cause of avoidable death worldwide, representing approximately 10% of all avoidable deaths. The estimated annual economic burden of tobacco use in the U.S. has reached more than $193 billion in health care costs and lost productivity. The second grant is to discover unique agents that could mitigate OP (Organo Phosphurus) chemical threats, addressing both acute OP-poisoning and long-term neurodegenerative effects. 

Third Eye Diagnostics, Inc. is developing a non-invasive, handheld intracranial pressure (ICP) monitor. The CerePress™ delivers a rapid diagnosis of brain injury in combat theaters, hospital ERs, medical transport vehicles, and sports events. ICP monitoring is critical for early diagnosis, earlier intervention, and improved outcomes in patients with brain injury, such as concussion, traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, hydrocephalus and other neurological disorders. 

There are 2.3 million new cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the U.S. civilian population each year and 10 million worldwide. An additional 1.1 million U.S. patients every year suffer from conditions that lead to elevated ICP, placing them at risk for brain damage and death. Approximately 188,000 U.S. troops have suffered a TBI since 2000. 

The National Science Foundation has awarded a total of $800,000 from 2009 through the present to Third Eye, and the company also received $250,000 from a federal Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project grant. Third Eye received a Pre-Proposal Technical Award, a Federal Marketing Assistance Review, and MicroGrant from the Innovation Partnership (IPart)

IPart provides assistance to companies to enhance their potential to receive federal funding to help grow and commercialize their technology in Pennsylvania. Ben Franklin refers appropriate clients to IPart for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), and other federal funding programs. The Ben Franklin Technology Partners statewide is a primary, founding, and supporting partner of IPart.   

The U.S. Department of Defense awarded two SSTR grants totaling $850,000 in 2012 and 2013 to VaxForm LLC. The company is developing a vaccine targeting diseases resulting from Streptococcus pyogenes infection.  S. pyogenes is a bacterium that causes a wide variety of diseases such as strep throat, scarlet fever, necrotizing fasciitis, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, and impetigo. An estimated 500,000 deaths annually are attributed to S.pyogenes infection worldwide. An effective vaccine could save thousands of lives and allow for billions of dollars in medical cost savings. 

“These federal grants allow Ben Franklin clients to commercialize their products that significantly improve the human condition,” added Paul. “This follow-on funding lets Ben Franklin leverage our investments to help create more highly paid, sustainable jobs for Pennsylvania workers.”