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Biotech firm moves into business incubator

Biotech firm moves into business incubator

The latest start-up company to move into the University of Missouri’s business incubator is developing an innovative cancer treatment: using lasers and immunotherapy to help boost the body’s natural defenses.

Immunophotonics Inc. moved into the Life Science Business Incubator in early September and will base its business operations in Columbia. Immunophotonics is the seventh tenant to occupy the Providence Road facility since it opened in January.

So far, Immunophotonics in Columbia is a one-man operation. Chairman and CEO Tomas Hode is honing the company’s business plan and working to attract investors from his desk in the “launch pad” wing of the incubator, where $300 per month buys budding entrepreneurs furnished workspace, shared office equipment and access to mentoring resources provided through the Missouri Innovation Center.

The cancer treatment his company is developing — laser-assisted immunotherapy — is based on 15 years of academic research done primarily through the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Hode said. It works by combining two types of treatment. First, a laser is used to heat up and damage the tumor. Laser light either can be administered directly through the skin or guided with a optical fiber to reach most tumors inside the body, so the procedure is relatively noninvasive. Secondly, immunotherapy is administered to condition the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. Combining the laser with the immunotherapy is what makes Immunophotonics’ method a novel treatment for human and veterinary cancer patients.

Immunphotonics holds six patents for its method and owns the rights to related research. “The initial data we have is indicating that we might be onto something entirely new, something that can educate the body and create an immunity to the tumor,” Hode said.

A product launch is still a few years away, but Hode said that Immunphotonics will look in the near future to hire local talent with skills in business development and scientific research to assist with tasks such as consulting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and marketing.

Hode, who holds a doctorate in astrobiology, started Immunophotonics in 2008 as a joint venture between Irradia USA, a medical laser manufacturing company, and a team of researchers. He is co-founder and director of science and education of Irradia USA.

Although the business side of Immunonphotonics is based in Columbia, research is conducted through various universities, and prototypes for the cancer laser have been developed in partnership with Irradia, which is based outside Charlotte, N.C., Hode said.

The support of local business development organizations and a little serendipity led Hode to Columbia and ultimately to the business incubator. Immunophotonics first connected with members of the Kansas City Area Development Council about locating to St. Joseph.

But in July, Hode’s wife, Marlo Goldstein Hode, was accepted to the dispute resolution program at the MU School of Law, and St. Joseph was out of the picture. After the two had already decided to move to Columbia in August, KCADC suggested Hode meet with leadership from the Missouri Innovation Center. Hode was impressed and, after receiving a grant from REDI, decided to sign a lease at the incubator.

As his business grows, Hode said that he’s committed to hiring locally.

“I think it’s a matter of reciprocity to try to stay in the region and create jobs,” he said.

Quinten Messbarger, vice president of the Missouri Innovation Center, said Immunophotonics has the makings to become an exemplar for what the Missouri Innovation Center is trying to accomplish at the incubator — growing start-up, high-growth businesses that can eventually put down roots in Columbia.

“Our job is to work hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs to establish and grow their ventures to a point where they can be viable on their own,” he said. “In three to five years… they graduate from the incubator and expand by leasing or building space at Discovery Ridge or some other suitable mid-Missouri location.”

Photo courtesy of University of Missouri business incubator

In addition to Immunophotonics Inc., the MU Life Science Business Incubator at Monsanto Place currently houses six companies.

Equinosis LLC uses technology developed by MU professor Kevin Keegan to diagnose lameness in horses, a more objective method than prior techniques.

PetScreen is the only company in the world that offers the Canine Lymphoma Blood Test, which finds cancer-indicating proteins in the blood. MU researchers will work with the company to find biomarkers in humans and animals.

Terminus Energy offers low-carbon distributive generation and solid oxide fuel cells. The company works with both MU researchers and Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers.

Value Ag LLC is an agribusiness services and technology spin-off from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Centennial Investors, a Columbia-based, 53-member investor network, will also occupy space as a “strategic tenant” and will be used as a source of seed-capital funds for current and future incubator tenants.

Executive Assistant Service is a “strategic tenant” that provides financial, accounting and grant administration services to companies, including some of the tenants of the incubator.

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