On Thursday, Lowry Curley, CEO of biotech startup AxoSim, broke the ribbon on laboratory space that would more than quadruple the company’s footprint at the New Orleans BioInnovation Center.

The startup, which was spun out from Tulane University in 2014, has created technology that replicates human nerves and provides pharmaceutical companies with an alternative to animal testing that can drastically reduce the amount of time required to bring pharmaceuticals to market. The technique has been very useful for evaluating medicines for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“We had to quadruple our area to 4,000 square feet last year due to our tremendous growth,” Curley added. The company now employs 32 full-time workers, including scientists, commercial staff, and support personnel.

Early development of AxoSim was supported by funds from government organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. It soon secured support from private investors, including Benson Capital Partners and Jefferson Capital Partners, and has funded over $10 million for rapid expansion. Lowry stated that the organization is finishing a new round of fundraising for expansion.

The recent interest stems from the 2022 legislative adoption of the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act 2.0, which allows pharmaceutical corporations to collect early data using high-tech modern methods rather than live animals. The FDA received $5 million to expedite the implementation of these new technologies.

Closing the void

Curley stated, “We are addressing a key void, particularly in neurology, where these animals have repeatedly failed to give adequate testing.” The federal government “is examining this and proclaiming, ‘This is functioning in these human models'”

Andy Kopplin, chairman of BioDistrict New Orleans, stated that AxoSim’s expansion illustrates the potential for the development of similar businesses in New Orleans.

Kopplin, CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation and chairman of the BioDistrict, stated, “I can’t wait to see how many additional homegrown tech businesses we can foster and how they can create employment and opportunity for our area.”

The BioDistrict received City Council permission for a portion of taxpayer money to finance its objective to promote an area that integrates the New Orleans BioInnovation Center as a hub of science innovation and business last year, after decades of delay.

Kris Khalil, director of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center and its investment arm, BioFund, stated that AxoSim’s growth is part of the “cluster building” essential to put New Orleans on the map and inspire other biotechnology businesses to remain and expand in the city. According to him, the BioInnovation Center is home to a number of such businesses.

Creating an ecology

“AxoSim is a wonderful illustration of what is possible in New Orleans: creating and developing biotech firms,” he added. That is an indication of the development of our ecosystem for risk capital.

Obatala Sciences, which was fostered by the BioInnovation Center and has flourished and garnered investment funding in recent years, is another frequently mentioned example. It competes in the same industry as AxoSim, providing technology that expands the variety of testing methods for novel therapies and accelerates the process of bringing them to market.

Another potential startup, according to Khalil, is Chosen Diagnostics, a spin-off from the LSU Health Sciences Center. It is developing tests for the early diagnosis of necrotizing enterocolitis, a potentially fatal intestinal infection that affects preterm newborns.

WayPath Pharma, founded in 2019 by two LSU students, is researching a therapy for the severe brain disease hemangiosarcoma in dogs. The cure would first be created for dogs, then it might be used to humans.

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