A startup spawned from a lab at the University of California, Berkeley has won investor support to work on its patented needle-free injector, which it hopes can make therapies that traditionally require daily self-administered medicines less painful.
NovaXS Biotech, founded by 21-year-old Berkeley researcher Alina Su in 2020, is seeking a $1.5 million seed round with the commitment of several investors already: Courtyard Ventures, a fund focused on UC Berkeley startups, MHub Impact Fund, an innovation hub based out of Chicago, medical device maker Baxter, and Edward Elmhurst Health, an integrated health system in Illinois. Chinese venture capital firm NewGen VC has also joined the round. AiBasis, an investment firm led by Baidu co-founder Lei Ming, and Boston-based Taihill Venture have expressed “great interest” but haven’t invested, according to Su.
NovaXS’s injection gun, which patients can snuggly hold in their hand, can push biologics into the body’s subcutaneous and intramuscular level within 0.3 seconds using liquid pressure. The device also comes with a cloud-based platform that collects patient information for physicians, like injection time, frequency, dosage volume, and medication temperature.
The startup has found two early use cases already — in vitro fertilization and drug delivery for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Su is particularly passionate about the treatment of the latter. DMD, an inherited disease caused by defects in a gene that encodes the protein critical to muscle functions, can put patients in wheelchairs by the age of 12. There is an existing FDA-approved solution that uses an Adeno-associated virus (AAV) to deliver modified genetic material to cells impacted, but the treatment can potentially generate adverse side effects.
Recent advancement in gene-editing technology has given the once incurable disease new hope, though much needs to be done to actually turn the lab work into commercially viable solutions. That’s what NovaXS aspires to do, with Su bringing her bioengineering professor Irina Conboy’s gene-editing CRISPR therapies to DMD patients using the startup’s needle-less injector.
“Many large pharmaceutical companies lack the incentive to fund IVF or rare disease R&D because these specific markets have limited patients. On the other hand, smaller companies are lacking the resources to tackle such daunting tasks,” said Su.
NovaXS is targeting gene therapy and IVF at the initial phase because Su believes they have “the biggest potential to acquire a large market share.” It’s also planning to work on other diseases that require in-home injections, such as diabetes and growth hormone disorders in children.
When the seed round closes, NovaX plans to work on the safety and stability of its products, apply for FDA clearance, and put together its core management team.
Originally from China, Su’s other goal is to bring DMD gene therapies to her home country. The startup will still be headquartered in the US but conducting clinical trials for the DMD treatment in China, where local governments are luring foreign and returning science and technology talents with attractive money and policy support.
Unlike in contested arenas like semiconductors and artificial intelligence, where tech transfers between the US and China are increasingly restricted, Su reckoned that in medicines and healthcare, the two superpowers are incentivized to collaborate because of a larger pool of clinical data is the basic staple of medical advancements.
“We don’t want our research to just get published in Nature. We want it to be helping people in real life,” Su said.
The business prospects of cutting-edge and still evolving technology like gene editing therapies can be hard to predict, and the Theranos saga has only made venture capitalists more prudent about esoteric medicines. But Su saw a silver lining.
“The problem of Theranos isn’t its business but its science. We are not short of great scientists, but we don’t have enough medical talent who also understands business. We hope to fill the gap.”
Update on April 5: NovaXS told TechCrunch earlier that the funding round has closed. The investment has not closed, and the company is still in discussion with AiBasis and Taihill. The article has been updated to reflect that.