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March 1, 2012 Volume 33, No. 22

UM System funding helps biotechnology firms take root in Columbia


Use of university funding keeps jobs in mid-Missouri

In the face of proposed budget cuts, the University of Missouri System is taking a do-it-yourself approach to statewide economic recovery.

 Buoying both the economy and the academy, the UM System’s Enterprise Investment Program, a funding source for Missouri high-tech startup companies, is contributing to two new ventures conceived at Mizzou.

System leaders have announced monetary awards for two Columbia companies founded by MU researchers: up to $400,000 for HLB Horizons, a nanotechnology company that manufactures chemical compounds used in semiconductors and rechargeable batteries; and up to $200,000 for EternoGen, a medical-device company that produces a long-lasting biological collagen scaffold used as a soft-tissue filler. The investment program also helped procure for EternoGen an additional $300,000 from outside investors.

At a Feb. 23 announcement ceremony in the Life Science Business Incubator at Monsanto Place, Chancellor Brady Deaton said, “In spite of the challenge of our budget and state funding, you cannot look at this enterprise without being just terribly optimistic about the future.”

Acting locally

Both companies remain rooted in Columbia.

HLB Horizons grew out of MU’s International Institute for Nano and Molecular Medicine, a state-of-the-art nanotechnology facility directed by Fred Hawthorne, a National Academy of Sciences member. EternoGen, now located at MU’s Life Science Incubator, originated with the MU Biodesign and Innovation Program, a collaboration joining  the School of Medicine and College of Engineering.

HLB President and CEO Mark Lee said venture capital firms wanted to provide funding but that accepting the offers would mean manufacturing the products abroad.

“Invariably if we were to pursue traditional startup funding routes, this technology would be commercialized offshore, almost certainly not in mid-Missouri,” said Lee, an assistant professor of chemistry, who founded HLB with Hawthorne and chemist Satish Jalisatgi.

EternoGen CEO Luis Jimenez, a Crosby MBA program graduate, said his firm is a direct product of the multidisciplinary collaborative opportunities Mizzou offers.

“It takes a team with multifunctional skills to achieve this objective,” Jimenez said. He leads EternoGen with Chief Operations Officer Ron Bassuner, a geneticist, and Chief Scientific Officer Rebecca Rone, an MU engineering alumna.

Thinking globally

The effects of fledgling businesses are expected to extend beyond Missouri — and beyond dollars and cents. The technologies have applications in human health, energy consumption and environmental safety, and have the potential to elevate the quality of life for people around the world.

 HLB Horizons has developed a safer, cheaper, more environmentally responsible way to produce chemical compounds containing boron. HLB’s chemical compounds currently can be used for manufacturing semiconductors and large-scale lithium batteries. Potential future applications include national defense and multiple medical uses, such as cancer treatment.

Already entering the medical market, EternoGen uses nanotechnology and protein engineering to make its collagen skin filler. The dermatological reconstructive product is being tested for use in burn treatment, combat wound treatment and orthopaedic reconstruction, as well as cosmetic applications.

Plans for HLB Horizons and EternoGen were among 16 proposals submitted to EIP’s review board for funding consideration more than a year ago. Applications will be accepted for the next round of funding beginning today.

UM System President Tim Wolfe said he expects the startups to “blossom into billion-dollar enterprises” and generate 175 jobs in mid-Missouri over the next five years.

“It is a clear path toward the creation of jobs,” Wolfe said.

— Karen Pojmann