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Innovation Fund invests $575,000 in biotech companies

The University of Chicago Innovation Fund announced plans to invest up to $575,000 into three biotechnology companies—ImmunArtes, Onchilles Pharma, and Oxalo Therapeutics. These latest investments bring the Innovation Fund’s total investment amount to over $6 million in 56 projects.

On Friday, December 1, four finalists presented their proposals to the Innovation Fund advisory committee, which includes leading investors and entrepreneurs from a variety of technological and scientific fields. Over 120 students, faculty, alumni, and members of the Chicago area entrepreneurial and investing community heard from teams that are all working in biotechnology fields—including unique treatments for staph infections, cancer, and kidney stone disease, as well as a software-as-a-service platform to improve specialty care.

“The teams presenting in this funding cycle are built on hard science.” said John Flavin, Associate Vice President for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and head of the Polsky Center at the University of Chicago. “That means at least one of their founders has invested decades in scientific inquiry to get to this point.”

The Innovation Fund, which is managed by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, invests in promising technologies and startups created by current faculty, students, and staff of the University as well as Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory. The Innovation Fund fills a critical gap in venture funding, providing early capital often otherwise unavailable to bring groundbreaking ideas to market. Applicants to the Fund receive expert feedback from a committee of industry experts, both internal and external to the University of Chicago—distinguished angel and venture capital investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs—to help them move their projects forward and create lasting impact.

The following teams will be receiving investments from this cycle:

ImmunArtes will be awarded up to $175,000 to support the development of the team’s treatment of staph infections. ImmunArtes’ objective is to develop immune-therapeutics targeting Staphylococcus aureus. Staph Aureus, and its antibiotic-resistant MRSA strains, is the most frequent cause of infectious disease and morbidity and mortality in the United States and beyond. The team is affiliated through the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division and the Institute for Molecular Engineering and is comprised of Dr. Sharon Feng, Dr. Olaf Schneewind, Dr. Dominique Missiakis, and Dr. Hwan Kim.

Onchilles Pharma will be awarded up to $150,000 for their unique cancer treatment. discoveries will enable the development of first-in- class medicines that are selective for cancer cells and non-toxic to normal cells and tissues.The team is affiliated through the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division and is comprised of Dr. Lev Becker and Court Turner.

Oxalo Therapeutics will be awarded up to $250,000 for their treatment of kidney stone disease. Oxalo Therapeutics is developing a first-in-class drug therapy derived from a gut bacterium to prevent and treat kidney stone disease. The Oxalo Therapeutics team leverages its expertise in nephrology, microbiome research, and biotech ventures to arrive at solutions for treatment and prevention of kidney diseases such as hyperoxaluria and oxalate-based kidney stones. Oxalo Therapeutics is affiliated through the University of Chicago Medical Center and is comprised of Dr. Hatim Hassam, Dr. Shyama Majumdar, and Chicago Booth student Yang Zheng.

The Innovation Fund Fall investments cap off an exciting 2017 for the Polsky Center’s scientific work. In May, the Polsky Center helped secure a $100 million gift from Chicago’s Duchossois Family to discover and commercialize new wellness products, particularly in the area of the microbiome. In October, the Polsky Center announced the first investment from UChicago’s endowment in an alumni-led startup – with $500,000 going to ExplORer Surgical, a software tool that increases both efficiency and patient safety in operating rooms. Finally, the Polsky Center announced plans to build a first-of-its-kind data sciences and wet lab facility to house start-ups, companies, and venture capitalists in a 270,000 square foot complex in downtown Hyde Park.

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