by Jon W. Sparks
innovation: TS23, an antibody that inhibits the molecule regulating clot dissolution as a better therapy to dissolve thrombi, which cause strokes and acute cardiovascular disease.
Few things are as difficult for a doctor as being unable to save a patient.
“That was one of the most profound things that happened to me in my training,” says Dr. Guy Reed, a cardiologist, the Lemuel Diggs Professor of Medicine, and Chair of the Department of Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “A patient came in and developed weakness on one side of the body, an indication of a stroke. We gave the best care we could at the time, but he died within 24 hours.”
Reed knew there wasn’t enough understanding of the causes of ischemic stroke and that there wasn’t a safe enough treatment for it. But rather than staying frustrated, he got to work looking for a solution.
For several years now, he’s been looking for a better therapy to dissolve blood clots, which cause most strokes. The result is TS23, a blood clot dissolving agent undergoing clinical trials and which holds the promise of providing vastly improved treatment of stroke and acute cardiovascular disease for millions of patients.
by Jon W. Sparks
innovation: Coding training directly to teenagers using three models: summer coding camps, after-school programs, and in-school training. Draws in new students and sends them into the marketplace with the realization that mentoring, networking, and partnerships are all part of building a community that goes beyond being a savvy coder.
Meka Egwuekwe was well aware of the problem.
As a software engineer, he knew that Memphis and the Mid-South were on the wrong side of the digital skills gap. The call for relevant and effective computer programmers was out there but wasn’t being met as vigorously as was needed.
So he took action.
In 2012, he founded the Memphis Chapter of Black Girls Code, which would become one of the country’s most active efforts to teach girls how to build mobile apps, web pages, video games, and robots.
That would lead him to develop Code Crew in 2015, a program that goes directly to teenagers in schools and community centers, teaching them the nuts and bolts of the jobs of the future.
by Jon W. Sparks
innovation: CHANGE: The youth-led social program working with students in grades 8 to 12, providing them with opportunities to become leaders who advance social justice through community organizing.
At BRIDGES, the idea is to push for a solution — and then push harder.
The nonprofit has long been focused on developing young people as tomorrow’s leaders, but the organization is finding that it’s imperative to let youth take on leadership as soon as possible.
“Several years ago we took a step back and looked at the Memphis community,” says Dana Wilson, vice president of the Bridge Builders youth program. “We saw the education landscape changing and daily lives of students changing, and realized it was important for us to re-evaluate how we work with young people and take it up a notch.”
by Jon W. Sparks
Innovation: A membrane made of medical grade manuka honey and proteins used in oral surgery to fill in gaps that occur after a tooth extraction. Allows the bones to regrow and gums to regenerate while preventing infection.
What is music to an innovator’s ears? Something that sounds like this: “I wish I had a better product — can you invent something?”
This was the query that lit the fuse for what would become SweetBio Inc., a honey of a startup that is bringing scientific and business savvy to healthcare.
The request came from an oral surgeon who was dealing with a vexing fact in the field of dentistry in America: Nearly 50 percent of adults aged 30 or older — about 65 million people — have signs of gum disease.
Innovator: Dr. Lisa Jennings
Innovation: A new class of implantable drug-delivering devices to improve patient outcomes and lower costs of care by reducing complications associated with surgical procedures; and a multi-service specialty laboratory and direct marketer of clinical trial logistics to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, as well as public and private institutions at the forefront of clinical research.
Website: aristemedical.com; cirquestlabs.com
by Lance Weidower
As a clinical professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Lisa Jennings has a far-reaching impact on the scientific and medical communities in Memphis.
Her work as founder of CirQuest Labs LLC and co-founder of Ariste Medical Inc. takes Jennings to the front of innovation in Memphis. The two Memphis-based biomedical companies put science into action for the benefit of the healthcare industry, filling a major gap in the process.
Jennings co-founded Ariste Medical with Tim Fabian, the Harwell Wilson Alumni Professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery at UTHSC in 2007. The business develops drug-delivering surgical implants to prevent infections, thrombosis, scar tissue, and other common causes of device failures.
CirQuest Labs is a multi-service specialty laboratory and direct marketer of clinical trial logistics to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, as well as public and private institutions at the forefront of clinical research.
“CirQuest fills the gap in the pharmaceutical and device industries,” Jennings says. “The last several years they’ve downsized the research and development departments. There are fewer people who can bridge the research. We bring that expertise. We understand the biology. We help them run the clinical trials. It’s an interesting niche to be in. Typically there are academic labs that know the science and then companies that are clinical research organizations that are good at doing testing and getting results back to clients, but not many companies that bridge the two.”
Started in 2008, CirQuest Labs helps in the early stages of drug development to increase the chances of having a safe and effective drug for patients that also reduces costs. The company performs testing for studies that are conducted in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia.
As a professor at UTHSC, Jennings became an internationally recognized expert in the area of platelets and clotting. There was a healthcare movement in the 1990s to add drugs that treat patients with cardiovascular disease in an effort to reduce the risk of having an event or preventing a second one from occurring. And Jennings began having more opportunities.
“After awhile it became clear to me it was time to focus my academic position on basic science and training of graduate and medical students,” she says.
She stayed at the university running the academic lab and collaborating with other faculty on campus as she took the pharmaceutical contract work to CirQuest Labs in 2008. A year later the company hired its first employee. Today, it has a staff of 14.
CirQuest Labs works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies of all sizes. Many of them, in fact, are Fortune 500 firms, Jennings says.
“We have a unique capability, plus the fact we are in Memphis with FedEx and we have the ability of either sending out kits for getting samples for trials, or receiving samples from clinical sites for testing,” she says. “Our storage facility, along with FedEx, gives us the unsurpassed capability to receive samples and store them for short- or long-term periods.”
CirQuest Labs is Good Clinical Practice compliant, meaning it meets higher standards of quality, reliability, and integrity of data collected.
“We can run clinical samples that can be reported to physicians and recorded in a patient file,” Jennings says regarding the importance of the GCP compliance. “These are very important credentials to have because the industry wants to know we have the best practices in place, that we’ve met criteria with little to no corrective action.”
If operating CirQuest Labs wasn’t enough, as co-founder and co-manager of Ariste Medical, Jennings is at the forefront of leading the technological development of drug-device combination products.
Ariste Medical has developed a new class of implantable drug-delivering devices to improve patient outcomes and lower costs of care by reducing complications associated with surgical procedures. That includes ways to remedy surgical infections, including a vascular graph closure that has a localized release of drugs that are known to prevent scar tissue.
They disclosed the invention to the University of Tennessee Research Foundation who in turn filed the patent. The company was formed in 2007, and in 2011, $1.3 million was raised to get the company going.
In the past year, Ariste Medical raised $4.6 million from an investor to continue development, testing, and preparations for commercialization of a new combination product to reduce risk of infection after hernia surgery.
That money is being used to scale up the manufacturing process to do the required U.S. Food and Drug Administration testing, with the hope of gaining approval by the third or fourth quarter of 2016 with official product launch in 2017.
Along with CirQuest Labs, Jennings says she is happy about the impact both are having on the local workforce.
“We’ve generated a lot of technology-related jobs in Memphis. People who graduate now have an option to do technical and high-level science. We’re hoping the company grows and we can continue to keep that in Memphis and provide jobs in the transitional biology sector. And hopefully having CirQuest in Memphis may attract other industries to the city. … It’s a win-win situation to have a company such as CirQuest in Memphis that can provide these services to our university colleagues who are doing the research to the industry at large.”
Jennings recently transitioned from her full-time tenured professorship so she can devote her time and focus on CirQuest Labs and Ariste Medical.
But that doesn’t mean she’s moving on from UTHSC.
“I have accomplished 30 years of service at UT,” says Jennings, who began as an assistant professor in 1985. “The university has been a really good career for me. I can’t imagine a better experience or better academic career than what I’ve had. I’ve worked with great students and great faculty at UT and at the University of Memphis. It prepared me for moving into these entrepreneurial opportunities.
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