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Start-up’s success validates years of effort at ECU

By Joy Holster

When good news sounded Oct. 4 at Entegrion in Research Triangle Park, the noise rang out 100 miles away at East Carolina University.

Entegrion announced Department of Defense funding up to $43.7 million to develop Resusix, the company’s unique powdered plasma product that will accelerate resuscitation of trauma victims.


The sound that echoed at ECU was affirmation:  Years in the making, the long-term efforts of the university’s Entrepreneurial Initiative and Office of Technology Transfer are finally starting to pay off.
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An ECU start-up company, Entegrion, has received funding up to $43.7 million for product development.


The Entrepreneurial Initiative, housed in the ECU Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development, works to transform faculty innovations from on-paper concept to commercial product through start-up companies funded by local investors.

When successful, the start-up companies and their investors then give back to ECU and the community, triggering a process that can eventually transform the region.


The process appears to be working for Entegrion, an ECU start-up business. With university support, a faculty research concept turned into a successful company that continues to develop products that saves lives.


“That’s an incredible success story,” said Marty Hackney, Entrepreneurial Initiative director.


ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard agreed. “The DOD funding is a significant contract with important implications for our military personnel in battlefield environments,” he said. 

“The contract also reflects the great rewards and benefits from the research expertise and support provided within the University of North Carolina system,” Ballard said.


Transforming the region

Hackney said potential now exists for Entegrion to build a manufacturing facility in eastern North Carolina with the pledged support of the economic development community, which would bring jobs and money into the community. High return on investment means more investors are willing to support more product ideas generated by faculty members. And the momentum grows, she said.

“All the pieces are starting to come together,” Hackney said. “Entegrion’s success is critical. It is the first piece that can start the momentum.


“With our economic partners we have all the pieces right here at East Carolina University to be the powerhouse to transform this region: technology, health care, science, communication, business and marketing expertise, fine arts, engineering and a relationship with the military,” Hackney said.


Supporting ideas

ECU was among the first to develop a university model for supporting product development through an investor network, Hackney said.  When the ECU program began in 2003, it was one of only four in the nation. Now nearly every university has such a program, she said.

The Entrepreneurial Initiative facilitates development of faculty innovations by providing leadership, expertise, networking and access to investors at different times in the growing process. Interdisciplinary teams of ECU business graduate students serve as project managers for developing companies. They gather market research, help write a business plan, conduct focus groups and often present ideas to investors.

The students’ efforts increase the company’s potential for success, while providing a hands-on opportunity to create and develop a business.


Starting up businesses

Access to investors takes place through the Entrepreneurial Initiative -facilitated Eastern North Carolina Investor Network, a group of established investors who meet regularly to consider and discuss investments in the faculty-inspired start-up companies. Network leaders Will Corbitt, ECU MBA graduate; Tommy Edwards, ECU Medical and Health Sciences Foundation Board of Directors; and UNC graduate Patrick Nash serve on boards and mentor entrepreneurs.

Patents and licensing for start-up businesses are handled through ECU’s Office of Technology Transfer, directed by Marti Van Scott. Also a part of OEIED, the OTT in ECU’s Division of Research and Graduate Studies serves the start-ups as a resource on protecting and commercializing intellectual property.


Established in 1997, the OTT is recognized nationally for its accomplishments in technology transfer and commercialization. The Entrepreneurial Initiative was developed in 2005 to foster entrepreneurship within the university and eastern North Carolina.


A number of start-up projects are under development at the Entrepreneurial Initiative in different stages, each one with the potential to be another major success, Hackney said.


“I credit the vision of Chancellor Ballard for our success,” Hackney said. “He knew this would happen. He made the early investment; he laid it all out and now it’s starting to happen.”


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For more details on ECU's Entrepreneurial Initiative, visit www.ecu.edu/oeied/entrpreneurial_initiative.cfm. Visit the Office of Technology Transfer at http://www.ecu.edu/ott/. Visit Entegrion at http://www.entegrion.com/.

Success at Entegrion

Entegrion was co-founded in 2002 by scientist Dr. Arthur P. Bode, then at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Brody School of Medicine, and Dr. Tom Fischer from UNC-Chapel Hill.  Bode has since left ECU and now serves as scientific director at Entegrion.

Bode, along with Marjorie Read and Bob Reddick, initially developed freeze-dried human platelets, the component of blood that causes coagulation. The powdered product – Stasix – can be quickly reconstituted and injected into the body, where the platelets go directly to work to stop severe bleeding. Both UNC and ECU received equity in the company, sharing in royalties on the sale of Stasix.

Well-positioned

Bode said development of Stasix put the company in the right place at the right time for commercialization of the new product, Resusix.

“From the first product development, we gained exposure with the Department of Defense. We became well-known players, recognized by the DOD as a good performer and therefore well-positioned when they actively sought companies ready to develop a dried plasma product.”

The DOD pushes for innovation in the medical community, urging companies to create better products, Bode said. “They tell us lives are being lost because you are not doing this better,” he said.

That was the case with the plasma product. Freeze-dried plasma had been available as far back as WWII but with serious drawbacks, particularly the transmission of blood-borne diseases through the product, Bode said.

Innovative techniques

Resusix was engineered to overcome existing problems. Entegrion co-founder Tom Fischer, along with Joe DaCorta, chief technical officer and vice president, and Michael Galiger, director of product development, designed a new spray-drying technique that creates a fine powdered product. They also used as their source material a solvent detergent treated plasma that eliminates many existing viruses.

Those innovations position the company “ahead of the game,” Bode said. Resusix is poised to enter clinical trials with the Food and Drug Administration. It will compete with similar products in the market.

Life-saving product

The product’s name reflects its benefits – resuscitation. Bode said that plasma helps resuscitate trauma victims and repair blood vessels so that they can better carry red blood cells. The sooner patients receive plasma, the better their chance of survival.

With products now on the market, however, plasma injection may take hours. The products must be kept frozen and thawed before use. In addition, one out of 10 bags of plasma breaks, Bode said.  The new dried plasma product can be reconstituted and injected within minutes.  The product has life-saving potential, with applications in both domestic and military arenas.

“ECU should be proud that it had a hand in starting up Entegrion,” Bode said.

The support from the university came “at the right place at the right time. They were supportive without being overbearing, providing guidance without regulation. I applaud the administration for that,” he said.

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