VIC Foundry: An Incubator for High Impact Life Science Technologies

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What is VIC Foundry?

VIC Foundry is one element of the VIC innovation ecosystem. It develops technologies sourced from top research institutions in the U.S. with the potential to have substantial impact and commercial opportunity, but that initially have too many unknowns for the reward to risk ratio to be favorable enough for placement of private equity investment. Instead, VIC Foundry further develops these promising technologies by accessing grant funding, such as SBIR and STTR, working in collaboration with the inventors of the technology.

Foundry Chart

After a technology has been de-risked enough to warrant private equity investment, a new company is formed, VIC places an initial executive team, and the VIC Investor Network makes a founding investment of up to $500,000 into the newly created company. The VIC Foundry allows VIC to advance potential breakthrough technologies to commercialization that, in the past, VIC had to reject due to the level of risk.


What Type of Technologies Are Being Developed Within VIC Foundry?

The focus is on life science technologies, including therapeutics, vaccines, medical devices, diagnostics, analytical instrumentation, consumables, etc. However, the mix of topics is somewhat more heavily weighted toward therapeutics than the rest of the VIC innovation ecosystem due to the high-upside, high-risk profile of these opportunities. The list of current projects includes, but is not limited to:

      • A molecular test for at-home diagnostics applications (including COVID) with performance comparable to the gold standard PCR tests but in an easy to use, low-cost format using saliva samples,
      • An antibody replacement therapy,
      • A novel microfluidic valving technology,
      • A low-cost sensor technology for food safety monitoring,
      • An innovative mass spectroscopy technique, and
      • An opioid alternative for neuropathic pain management.

Let’s dive into one of these--the opioid alternative – more deeply as an example.

Example Technology: Immunotherapy for Neuropathic Pain

The opioid crisis has emphasized the tremendous need for better non-addictive therapeutics for pain management. The chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) imposed on approximately half of patients receiving cancer treatment is a significant additional burden. Chemotherapy remains in wide usage as a primary therapeutic intervention for various forms of cancer. In many cases, the high prevalence of neurotoxicity often limits chemotherapeutic dosing efficacy and maximum therapeutic effect. Patients may experience disabling cold and mechanical hypersensitivity. The toxic effects can cause premature termination of treatment, impacting quality of life and survivability. CIPN can subsequently lead to permanent symptoms and disability in up to 40% of cancer survivors; thus the societal loss in dollars is substantial. There are no drugs preventing development of CIPN, and CIPN has a poor therapeutic response to analgesics.

Our current collaborative effort with researchers at the University of New Mexico focuses on adapting and optimizing a small antibody-derived therapy (scFv) that reverses chronic neuropathic pain, including CIPN. Commercial viability of the scFv approach is dependent on introducing changes that optimize its effectiveness in humans rather than in the animal models used to demonstrate efficacy. In addition, small changes to the target binding site will be made to the scFv to accommodate minor differences between the therapeutic target in humans and animals. Thus, VIC Foundry has submitted a grant proposal to complete these scFv protein engineering steps and demonstrate efficacy of the of the engineered product. Together, these activities will validate the suitability of scFv for therapeutic development and clinical evaluation. This project's ultimate objective is the realization of an effective and commercially viable non-opioid treatment for CIPN brought about through scFv structural design that enables prevention and/or mitigation of disabling CIPN in patients. Successful outcome of the grant work would likely lead to a new company formed by VIC, with initial investment from the VIC Investor Network to commercialize the technology.

Concluding Remarks

The VIC Foundry is an important element of the VIC innovation ecosystem and enhances VIC’s ability to bring breakthrough innovations from the lab to the market. For our university partners, VIC Foundry provides an opportunity for technologies that otherwise might never be licensed due to the early stage of development achieved within the university. Universities can benefit from subcontracted work back to the university, and have a much higher chance of eventually generating substantial licensing revenue than a typical faculty or student-led startup. For the VIC Investor Network, the VIC Foundry provides an additional source of high-quality deal flow and de-risks highly promising technologies. It allows deeper insights prior to VIC making the go/no-go decision on a new start-up to commercialize the given technology.

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