UMaine spinout Neuright receives $225,000 NSF Small Business Technology Transfer award
Neuright, Inc., a University of Maine biotech spinout focused on the early diagnosis and treatment of peripheral neuropathy, has been awarded $225,000 under the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program to further develop its technology for delivery to market.
Peripheral neuropathy, a condition in which nerve fibers die back from the skin, is estimated to affect more than 20 million people in the U.S. and can cause symptoms including pain, numbness and loss of limb control. Diabetes, which affects an estimated 34 million Americans, is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy — up to 70% of those with diabetes will also have peripheral neuropathy. Wide-ranging and variable symptoms make peripheral neuropathy difficult to diagnose, and while there is no cure, early intervention and treatment can help patients minimize and manage the often debilitating effects.
Recognizing an opportunity to address these issues, Magdalena Blaszkiewicz, who graduated from UMaine in 2019 with a doctoral degree in biomedical sciences, and Kristy Townsend, an associate professor of neurobiology, co-founded Neuright in 2018 to create and commercialize an affordable medical device to measure nerve conduction and stimulate the regrowth of nerves.
The company’s founders took advantage of several new and existing programs that help advance university research toward commercialization and are offered by or connected with UMaine’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development.
Neuright’s technology evolved out of Townsend’s National Institutes of Health-funded research into brain-adipose communication and how peripheral nerves in adipose (fat) tissue function. The Townsend lab had discovered that adipose tissues under the skin also experience peripheral neuropathy with obesity, diabetes and aging. This loss of proper brain-adipose neural communication likely worsens metabolic control. The ability to measure neuropathy as it descends to deeper tissue layers is one goal of the medical device being optimized under the STTR award. The device being developed allows measurement of nerve electrical activity as an indication of neuropathic state, and is currently being tested in neuropathic mouse models. The university recently filed a provisional patent application to protect the technology.
The decision to form a startup and pursue commercialization was a direct result of the team’s participation in the first cohort of MIRTA, a UMaine accelerator program made possible by the University of Maine System Research Reinvestment Fund that seeks to develop research tied to Maine businesses or industries critical to the future of the state.
The next step toward commercialization saw Neuright join the UMaine-facilitated Bangor cohort of the statewide Top Gun accelerator, which matches high-growth potential entrepreneurs with experienced mentors. Neuright was one of two grand prize winners in 2019, receiving the $25,000 David Shaw prize, thanks to their successful pitch at the showcase event. The company has also received funding from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI), and was supported by MTI as they prepared their STTR application.
Neuright currently occupies office space at the UpStart Center for Entrepreneurship in Orono, a facility operated in partnership by the Bangor Target Area Development Corporation and the University of Maine. The space is available as part of a co-working arrangement established by the town of Orono in 2019 to encourage local companies and UMaine spinoffs to pursue their development in the region.
“This STTR funding will allow Neuright to continue our important collaboration with UMaine researchers and optimize our technology over the next year,” says Blaszkiewicz, the company’s president and CEO. “These are critical steps as we look ahead to clinical testing in humans and we are grateful for the ongoing support of our network here in Maine.”
Neuright’s STTR award will permit the company to hire an employee who will be based at the UpStart Center and will coordinate UMaine’s ongoing research involvement. Other UMaine faculty partnering on this research include lead biomedical engineer Rosemary Smith, neuroscientist Len Kass, and electrical/computer engineers Nuri Emanetoglu and Ali Abedi. A UMaine student will also be hired to assist with device testing under the STTR award.
Once the device is finalized, the Neuright team will apply for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program funding with NIH in order to begin clinical testing in humans.
Contact: Renee Kelly, email@example.com