You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

A California startup with a coronavirus solution grows Fort Worth's tech hub hopes

Fort Worth Star-Telegram logoFort Worth Star-Telegram 7/30/2020 By Luke Ranker, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

An emerging biotech company developing a hand sanitizer to combat coronavirus hopes to make Fort Worth the proving ground for its potentially revolutionary technology.

Cage Bio’s relocation from California to startup lab space at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth also furthers the likelihood that Cowtown can become a tech hub, say proponents of the city’s tech sector. The burgeoning environment for research and development helped attract Cage Bio, said CEO Nitin Joshi, who said he sees Fort Worth as the perfect place to scale up the fledgling company and find partners.

“The network of investors has been growing pretty rapidly,” he said of Fort Worth. “And it’s becoming fairly easy to hire top-notch people, so we thought it would be a great place for us to expand.”

Cage Bio develops topical therapeutic products for dermatology, inflammation and immunology. While the company hopes to launch products to treat rosacea, hair loss, vitiligo, and eczema, Joshi said it’s most excited about a hand sanitizer announced this week.

Using ionic liquid, which is basically salt that remains liquid at room temperature, Cage Bio has developed a sanitizer that kills 99.9% of human coronaviruses. Unlike alcohol-based sanitizers, which evaporate rapidly and stop protecting the skin in a matter of minutes, Joshi said IonLast continues to kill viruses for up to four hours. The solution was also effective against the bacteria that causes staph infections.

“We’re really excited to bring this innovation,” Joshi said. “You know, there’s been no innovation in this space for decades.”

The ionic liquid is based on technology Samir Mitragotri developed. He is a Harvard professor and co-founder of Cage Bio.

Joshi said further development of IonLast will take place in Fort Worth and the company is hoping to partner with a manufacturer in North Texas.

Cage Bio is small — five people will make the move to Fort Worth over the coming months, but Joshi said the company will likely add three within a year. The company is likely to use HSC Fort Worth lab space for two years as it develops and tests new products before expanding.

Fort Worth tech sector

The HSC Fort Worth lab space has proven to be a successful incubator for tech firms launching in North Texas.

In February Exact Diagnostics, which manufactures virus samples for labs to test and calibrate equipment, was purchased by Bio-Rad for $60 million. The company is relocating from the health science center to its own space in the Near Southside.

Hayden Blackburn, executive director of Tech Fort Worth, said Cage Bio should have no trouble growing in the same way as Exact Diagnostics. Using lab space and equipment at HSC Fort Worth significantly reduces overhead costs, he said, giving them a leg up. But the payoff may be years away.

“It’s a small thing in the beginning, a small seed, but you look 10 years down the road, you’re like, yeah, this is excellent,” he said.

Besides Exact Diagnostic’s purchase, Blackburn pointed to two other fairly recent successes for Fort Worth biotech companies that also came out of HSC Fort Worth: ZS Pharma’s cash sale to AstraZeneca for $2.7 billion in 2015 and Encore Vision’s 2016 $465 million purchase by Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant that owned Fort Worth-based Alcon. Alcon was spun off into a separate publicly traded company in 2019.

Cameron Cushman, director of HSC FortWorth’s Innovation Ecosystems, called Cage Bio’s move a “payoff moment.” The company was drawn to Fort Worth through network rather than tax incentives, a sign the city is becoming known as an alternative to Silicon Valley, he said.

“Word has started to get up to this is a good place to come and start a biotech company,” he said. “California is just emptying out right now. They’re all looking for places to go outside of Silicon Valley or coasts. Texas is welcoming them with open arms.”

Health technology and other life science research is a growing focus of Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial environment, he said. Roughly 60% of the business incubator’s clients are in biotech, life science and health technology, he said, and 14, or about 32%, of the companies Cowtown Angels have invested in since 2012 have been in the same field.

Fostering technology-based entrepreneurship may be the future for Fort Worth’s economy, said Les Kreis, but only if the city can leverage the academic research at the universities and investors willing to take the risk. Kreis co-manages Fort Worth venture capital firm Bios Partners, which focuses on biotech investments. It invested about $3.7 million in Encore Vision.

Tech has been an “underdog” in Fort Worth compared to the large government projects that benefit Lockheed Martin or the oil and gas industry, he said. But venture capital investments have been trending toward tech, he said, with the industry investing 30% to 40% in new technology companies.

“Venture capital is seen as the smart money right? They’re making these investments because they know where the future is,” He said, adding later: “If Fort Worth is smart it will turn itself into a tech hub.”

Since last year the city has been working to market the Near Southside as an innovation center, branded iter8 Health Innovation Community.

Joshi said he sees Cage Bio playing a role in growing Fort Worth’s tech scene.

“There is a large base of high caliber scientific professionals that we get access to,” he said, adding that the lab space and entrepreneurial networking is growing rapidly in the area. “So the timing to join the community is perfect.”

———

©2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Visit the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at www.star-telegram.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Fort Worth Star-Telegram

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon