“Micro-organ startup StemoniX raises capital, plots Twin Cities expansion”
The business can create tiny organs that drug companies can use for testing.
A startup producing miniature organs for drug-development research has raised about $500,000 in capital as its scouts for sites to expand its Twin Cities operations.
Ping Yeh, who held leadership roles at data-storage companies such as Seagate before jumping into the life sciences industry, is CEO and co-founder of the startup, StemoniX Inc. The business converts skin cells into stem cells, which it then uses to create tiny organs, such as hearts, for scientific research. Pharmaceuticals companies can test out promising compounds on the micro organs, potentially reducing the need for animal testing.
StemoniX already counts one of the 10 largest pharmaceuticals companies among it customers, Yeh said.
Inspiration for the company came partly from Yeh’s experience as a cancer patient. Physicians diagnosed Yeh with lymphoma while he was on a family trip visiting his 90-year-old grandfather. Yeh proved resistant to traditional chemotherapy and had to be treated with a riskier, high-toxicity drug. He survived and subsequently developed an interest in improving drug testing. One of the limitations of animal research, he said, is it’s hard to get an idea of how drugs affect diverse populations.
When inventor Robert Petcavich told Yeh about a provisional patent he had for the mass printing of cells, Yeh decided to explore building a company around the technology. (Petcavich has about 80 patents, and his inventions include the bags used to microwave popcorn, Yeh said).
Steve Snyder, who co-founded and led Net Perceptions, was the company’s first investor. Gopher Angels, a Minneapolis-based angel investor group, also backed the company last year, and StemoniX has raised a total of $3.5 million including the recent $500,000 raise.
Most of the company’s management team is based in the Twin Cities, but StemoniX also has substantial operations in San Diego at JLabs, a Johnson & Johnson Inc.-run startup incubator. StemoniX’s plans for the Twin Cities include opening a headquarters and manufacturing facility, which could be as large as 30,000 square feet, Yeh said.
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