Michael E. Jung, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA, was recently honored for his significant contributions to biomedicine during a Cal State LA BioSpace ceremony celebrating emerging entrepreneurs. A resident of West Los Angeles, Jung was awarded the LA BioStar Award during the graduation ceremony for participants of Cal State LA BioStart, an intensive training program for emerging bioscience entrepreneurs. The project is part of Cal State LA BioSpace, which is leading the university’s efforts to promote a thriving bioscience ecosystem in the heart of Los Angeles.West Los Angeles biomed innovator honored Source: Westside.com
Two scientists who graduated from the Cal State LA BioStart program have received a nearly $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use in preclinical studies to test their drug-delivery system in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer. Gayle Boxx and Jan Mrazek, the founders of Aukera Inc. of Pasadena, were part of the first cohort of Cal State LA BioStart, a five-week program for bioscience entrepreneurs, in 2017. Cal State LA BioStart provides startup companies with training, mentoring and business knowledge essential to creating and sustaining bioscience ventures. “While we had already formed our company and had covered much of the corporate setup, it was great to learn about the different aspects of regulation, of moving products forward,” Boxx says. Topics covered in the program include business fundamentals, financing models, industrial research and development, regulatory affairs, quality systems, clinical trials, leadership skills and communication strategies. “I think it was instrumental to our success,” Boxx says of her experiences in Cal State LA BioStart. The program is part of a broader initiative called Cal State LA BioSpace, an effort of the University with partners from government, academia, private industry and the nonprofit sector to promote a thriving bioscience ecosystem in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State BioSpace provides emerging entrepreneurs with facilities, resources, training and knowledge to launch startup ventures and spur regional economic development at no cost to eligible participants. Boxx and Mrazek believe that their product, called the nCap, is the next advancement for the delivery of vaccines or other therapeutic molecules to treat illnesses including cancer. The nCap is modeled after the vault nanoparticle, a cellular structure that occurs organically in the body. “What we will do is use our nCap platform to encapsulate a vaccine that will target the immune system to attack the cancer cells,” Boxx says. “So our technology uses the vault nanocapsule, which is naturally present in the body, so it makes an ideal delivery vehicle.” A nanoparticle is a microscopic particle with dimensions less than 100 nanometers. The nCap nanoparticle, which is manufactured at Aukera Inc., is 67 nanometers long. A strand of hair is 100,000 nanometers wide. Vaults are large intracellular particles composed of protein and ribonucleic acid (RNA), the genetic messenger present in all living cells. Since the discovery of vaults in 1986 at UCLA, their cellular functions are still unclear. However, Boxx and Mrazek say that because of the barrel-shaped structure, properties and composition, vaults can be used to encapsulate and transport therapeutic molecules to targeted cells. Unlike existing treatments, the nCap, given its stability, can be shipped and stored at room temperature in a liquid form, Boxx and Mrazek explain. That cuts the time the clinician needs to reconstitute and to administer the drug, reducing variability in the drug’s efficacy. This quality eliminates the need for a refrigeration system, which is lacking in some countries. Because the vault nanoparticle is already present in the body, Mrazek says, it does not generate an unwanted immune response and will degrade naturally without side effects. The vault nanocapsule’s large interior allows for the packaging of different types of molecules, and the technology does not require chemical modification of the cargo. For example, chemotherapy is the primary treatment for cancer. However, many anticancer drugs do not easily dissolve in water, making chemotherapy problematic because the human body is largely composed of water. This means that the drugs are difficult to administer intravenously without the use of complicated organic solvents that are highly toxic and cause severe side effects. “Really, it is something that the [pharmaceutical] industry has been struggling with for years,” Mrazek says. “… Some particles maybe had good cargo capacity but were more toxic. Or some less toxic but you couldn’t put enough cargo inside. Or they were immunogenic, or they were unstable, or they were not biodegradable. … Why reinvent the wheel? We want to take something that nature already discovered or made.” Boxx and Mrazek have high hopes for their research. The funding they received from the NIH’s Phase I Small Business Innovation Research program is for one year. They anticipate applying for Phase II of the program to further demonstrate technical merit and feasibility before commercialization and seeking potential partners. As for the future of Aukera and the nCap vault nanoparticle, if the research and development phase results go as expected, Mrazek says: “We are open to any company that wants to collaborate or deliver their product using our vault platform. We are open to anybody. You have a drug, you give it to us, and we encapsulate it and give it to you. … And if there is some positive effect, we have an amazing thing.” By Leily Sanchez Cal State LA News Service
Cal State LA awarded Amgen Foundation grant to boost careers in bioentrepreneurship
Rongxiang Xu Bioscience Innovation Center at Cal State LA. Cal State LA awarded Amgen Foundation grant to boost careers in bioentrepreneurship Cal State LA has received a $100,000 grant from the Amgen Foundation to establish the community education component of the Cal State LA BioSpace incubator, which is leading the university’s efforts to promote a thriving bioscience ecosystem in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA BioSpace will partner with the California Community Colleges Statewide Offices of Life Sciences/Biotech and Business & Entrepreneurship, in order to educate and inspire women and ethnically diverse community college students to pursue leadership careers in biotechnology through bioentrepreneurship. “The goal is to give students insight into the biotechnology industry as well as to provide them with the necessary tools to create innovative business plans and launch early stage start-ups,” said Howard Xu, director of incubator development and programming and professor of microbiology at Cal State LA. Funded by the Amgen Foundation, the main philanthropic arm of the global biotech Amgen, the online bioentrepreneurship training program will enhance the existing curriculum at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Los Angeles Pierce College and Rio Hondo College. “Reflecting the foundation’s mission, this project aims to advance excellence in science education and inspire the next generation of innovators,” Xu added. The Cal State LA BioSpace initiative was created to address critical shortages of bioscience entrepreneurs and of lab space for startup companies, and promote the bioscience industry in Los Angeles. The incubator, housed in the university’s Rongxiang Xu Bioscience Innovation Center, is developed by grants from Los Angeles County and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
Cal State LA BioSpace startups in Pasadena selected for LA BioMed Innovation Showcase
Cal State LA BioStart Two Pasadena bioscience startup ventures launched with support from Cal State LA BioSpace participated in the LA BioMed Innovation Showcase in September. The showcase was a regional forum for academic institutions to highlight new startups and early-stage technologies. Entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, trade organizations and industry experts heard presentations from 32 emerging companies and gathered for business discussions and networking opportunities. Synova Life Sciences and CellectGen were among the startups chosen to deliver pitches at the event. The two Pasadena firms, as well as Aukera, Inc., in Monrovia, were launched by graduates of Cal State LA BioStart, an intensive training program for early-stage bioscience entrepreneurs. The project is part of Cal State LA BioSpace, which is leading the university’s efforts to promote a thriving bioscience ecosystem on the Eastside of Los Angeles and in the San Gabriel Valley. Source: Pasadena News Now
Cal State LA recognizes Los Angeles biotech leader, emerging bioscience entrepreneurs
Willie Zuniga, president of Grifols Biologicals Inc., was honored for his contributions to the regional bioscience industry during a Cal State LA BioSpace ceremony celebrating emerging entrepreneurs. Zuniga is a Cal State LA alumnus who was raised in El Sereno. He was awarded the LA BioStar Award during the August 14 graduation ceremony for participants of Cal State LA BioStart, an intensive training program for early-stage bioscience entrepreneurs. The project is part of Cal State LA BioSpace, which is leading the university’s efforts to promote a thriving bioscience ecosystem on the Eastside of Los Angeles and in the San Gabriel Valley. “When you work in this industry, it comes with a very important mission,” Zuniga told the gathering at Cal State LA. “This is so much more than just a job, this is so much more than just a career, we have an obligation to improve the quality of life for others.”
Cal State LA BioStart launches five-week training program for bioscience entrepreneurs
The intensive training program for emerging entrepreneurs is now underway at California State University, Los Angeles. A five-week program funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, LA BioStart provides start-up companies training, mentoring and business knowledge essential to starting and sustaining bioscience ventures. LA BioStart is a collaboration between Cal State LA, the Biocom Institute, and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. “We can’t wait to see what discoveries are on the horizon from LA BioStart’s highly distinguished inaugural cohort of fellows,” said Cal State LA’s Executive Vice President Jose A. Gomez, who also chairs LA BioSpace, the university’s bioscience incubator. “We appreciate the leadership of the Biocom Institute, Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, and other partners that helped make this program a reality.”
Los Angeles County aims to fast-track bioscience in unincorporated areas
Los Angeles County may fuel its $40 billion bioscience industry by clearing regulatory roadblocks to building labs and manufacturing plants in unincorporated areas. County supervisors unanimously passed a motion Aug. 7 to look into how to streamline the entitling and permitting of new bioscience businesses within unincorporated regions spanning nearly 2,700 square miles. The motion passed by five supervisors included sizing up current zones that allow for bioscience manufacturing, in addition to creating a new overlay zone where new businesses could potentially cut construction costs. “We’ve been seeking to pay attention … to the bioscience industry,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, author of the motion, whose district includes industrial unincorporated areas near Hawthorne, Compton and Torrance, before the vote. “Jobs, jobs and more jobs. That’s the mantra. And it is jobs up and down the economic ladder.” Source: Los Angeles Business Journal
Cal State LA recognizes biotech leader and LA BioStart graduating fellows
Wendie Johnston, Professor Xu and others from Cal State LA Cal State LA recognizes biotech leader and LA BioStart graduating fellows Wendie Johnston was recognized by the LA BioStart training program at California State University, Los Angeles for her contributions to the region’s burgeoning bioscience industry. Johnston, lab director for the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator, was awarded the first LA BioStar Award during the Feb. 16 graduation ceremony for participants in the LA BioStart Bioscience Entrepreneurs Boot Camp. The award was created to honor the contributions of bioscience leaders in the region. “The real message is: It takes a village,” Johnston told the gathering at Cal State LA. “It takes collaboration, it takes partnerships, it takes negotiations.”
U.S. Dept. of Commerce grant to fund lab space for bioscience startups at the University
nited States Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis visited the Cal State L.A. campus Wednesday afternoon to promote the development of the bioscience industry in the area. Williams and Solis are proponents of leveraging the bioscience industry to promote economic development and job creation. They were accompanied on a campus laboratory tour by President William A. Covino, who talked about the University’s successful efforts to prepare students to excel in Ph.D. programs in STEM-related disciplines. During the tour, Williams and Solis met with students who are conducting research under the direction of professors Howard Xu and Cecilia Zurita Lopez. Breanna Luna, who is pursuing a master’s degree in biology, talked how about Cal State L.A. is fueling her interest in science. “I’m sure your family is proud of you. Congratulations,” Williams told Luna. RELATED: Bioscience flourishes at Cal State L.A. Solis, a former U.S. secretary of labor whose 1st Supervisorial District includes the University, said Cal State L.A. plays an important role in training future researchers who will help the bioscience industry thrive in the area. A majority of Cal State L.A. students come from Solis' district. “As secretary of labor my priority was job creation, and I am continuing that priority in the 1st District,” she said. Cal State L.A. is a center of a regional effort to expand bioscience businesses in Los Angeles. The University is currently building a bioscience incubator on its campus with assistance from Los Angeles County, which last year awarded Cal State L.A. $3 million to support the facility.Cal State L.A. laboratory The incubator will provide laboratory space to private startup ventures to fuel their growth. Faculty and students at Cal State L.A. will collaborate with the companies to share expertise that will benefit the University and the private sector community. Cal State L.A. has applied for a $3 million grant from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, the agency headed by Assistant Secretary Williams. The federal grant would be used to construct a new building for the incubator on the 175-acre campus.