Health Care Checkup: A Startup Connection sweep, MOGene launches spinoff

The Health Care Checkup is a weekly rundown of the state’s top health care headlines.

Photo courtesy of StartUp Connection
Photo courtesy of StartUp Connection

Checking the Pulse

Health care startups sweep Startup Connection

In a field of 70 companies — 16 of which were their peers — health care startups swept the top three positions at this year’s Startup Connection in St. Louis. The annual pitch competition for entrepreneurs awarded the $50,000 first prize to Nanopore Diagnostics, which is developing a test to identify bacterial infections the same day it’s administered in order to speed antibiotic prescriptions. Second place, worth $30,000, went to Zymplr, which is developing a helmet liner designed to reduce concussions. Immunophotonics, which is developing the cancer vaccine inCVAX, won the $20,000 third prize.

MOGene launches spinoff

St. Louis-based genomics services company MOGene expanded its operations with a new spinoff housed in the BioResearch & Development Growth Park at the Danforth Plant Science Center. The new company, called MOGeneDx, takes MOGene into the field of personalized medicine, or medicine tied to an individual’s genetic information to better focus treatments. MOGeneDx’s personalized work will focus on diagnostics for HIV in its early stages. Its first product, ResistD, is expected to become available next year. However, director of clinical diagnostics Dun Liang said the company plans to expand into services related to Hepatitis C and other diseases in the future.

Cerner pays $8.9M for Montgomery Ward building for Three Trails

Another barrier was removed for Cerner’s in-progress Three Trails campus, namely the building in south Kansas City that used to house Montgomery Ward & Co. In all, the purchase of that building and another nearby structure, plus the land they sit on, totaled 19.8 acres and cost Cerner $8.9 million. Don’t expect any demolition or conversion yet, though, as the property’s former owner, dirt bike and performance parts manufacturer APT MotoVox, agreed to lease the building and an adjacent lab from Cerner each month through July 2017 and April 2018, respectively. APT MotoVox made a similar agreement with Cerner when it sold the latter the Bannister Mall property in 2011; that property now serves as the starting point for the Three Trails construction. The first fruits of that work are still expected to be seen in 2016, with the full campus completed in 2025.

Reading the Chart

The prognosis wasn’t good in the past week for two major Missouri health care players reporting quarterly losses. First, Mallinckrodt used the day it announced a $352.4 million fourth-quarter loss to also confirm it will sue the Food and Drug Administration over the reclassification of Mallinckrodt’s generic equivalent of the ADHD drug Concerta, a move that caused concerns for the company’s bottom line. Then there was Ascension, the parent company of Ascension Health, which announced an $87 million loss of its own for the first quarter of its fiscal year.

Shots in the Arm

One piece of health care fundraising news stands out: Kypha, a startup developing a test to monitor inflammation, received $3.5 million from investors including Arsenal Capital Management, BioGenerator and Serra Ventures in Illinois. Kypha CEO Chad Stiening said the money would go toward completion of clinical trials, getting FDA clearance and adding staff.

Quote of the Week I

“[The Department of Health and Human Services] has shirked its duty, and I am very offended that consumers in Missouri are second-class citizens when it comes to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.”

— Former Missouri state senator Joan Bray, now executive director of the Consumers Council of Missouri, with strong words describing the reason the council is suing HHS to have health insurance rates in the state disclosed in advance in the future. HHS made some information available about a week ahead of open enrollment this year, but Bray says key details such as “assumptions and calculations” insurance companies use to justify rate hikes were left out. No court date has been set for the suit.

Quote of the Week II

“We encourage our patients and their families to quit the use of tobacco products, and this is an extension of that philosophy.”

— Kevin Everett, associate professor in Family and Community Medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia, on the recent decision by MU Health Care to stop hiring users of all tobacco products, including cigarettes. Under the new policy, anyone answering “yes” to being a tobacco user will be removed from consideration for 90 days and given materials to help them quit. In addition, tobacco will be added to the list of drugs new hires are screened for upon starting their jobs, though a spokesperson for MU Health said current employees would not be affected by the change.

Tweet of the Week

The grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on charges related to the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown incited riots and looting in the town near St. Louis, a sequence of events likely to be traumatizing for some. However, the decision handed down caused that plight to be overshadowed in the eyes of some people.

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