“Our PSW Experience Changed Everything Except the Idea!”
CytoCybernetics Negotiating First Sales Deal Less Than a Year After Attending PSW
“Preventing deaths is never news-worthy, only disasters,” observed Glenna Bett, PhD, founder and CEO of CytoCybernetics, recalling the origins of her company’s product, Cybercyte. Dr. Bett (pictured right) had a great solution to a huge problem in mind, but realized she needed help bringing Cybercyte to market. “We felt that we needed some outside critique of what we were doing,” recalled Dr. Bett. “We felt we had a good idea, but we knew we needed to patent our technology, and we’re scientists and engineers with no business background.” To remedy their lack of business experience, Dr. Bett championed the idea for Cybercyte at Pre-Seed Workshop Buffalo and was astounded at how much she learned in a short time. “We completely restructured our business plan,” she said. “We didn’t realize how bad it was. It was completely deconstructed by lawyers and entrepreneurs. Everything changed, except the idea.”
Dr. Bett brought the technology behind Cybercyte, which is now protected by US and World Patents, to PSW, and her company is off to an enormous start. “We have academic relationships with three sites and are negotiating our first sale right now,” said Dr. Bett.
The goal of Cybercyte (shown right) is to enable an FDA-mandated screening assay for drugs under evaluation for safety to ensure they do not cause arrhythmias in humans. These screens are required since many drugs unrelated to the heart (such as antihistamines and antipsychotics) were previously taken off the market due to patients experiencing cardiac arrhythmias. Although these drugs were evaluated in preclinical cell and animal models before human trials and subsequent approval, “Animals are not humans,” said Dr. Bett. “Different things cause arrhythmias in humans than in animals. If drugs do not cause arrhythmias during studies, all you are saying is that they are safe in animals.”
The ideal solution to screen drugs for unintended actions in the heart is to use healthy heart tissue, but this is a scarce resource. Instead, researchers turn to induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are skin cells that have been transformed into stem cells by a tightly controlled cocktail of ingredients applied in cell culture before differentiation into functional cardiomyocytes..
“iPSCs are incredible, but there is one drawback” said Dr. Bett. “No IK1.” IK1, or potassium intermediate/small conductance calcium-activated channel, is a protein that allows cells to repolarize following an electrical stimulus. “If IK1 is not there, cells are spontaneously active and have rhythmic activity. You cannot test drugs on iPSCs. You need IK1 to help with that.”
Hence the need for Cybercyte, which is described on the company’s website. Dr. Bett was very interested in dynamic clamp—the basis of Cybercyte—as she has a background in physics and is fascinated by the heart. Her partner, Randall Rasmusson, PhD, founder and President of CytoCybernetics, has a background in electrical engineering. Together, they make concrete solutions to biology problems, but they needed something like PSW to help build their business strategy.
Using their new knowledge from PSW, Dr. Bett entered the 43North business plan competition in 2014 and was a semifinalist. She plans to enter again in 2015. She is currently building company value before formally seeking funding from venture capitalists, although she has had some informal discussions. The largest chunk of funding for CytoCybernetics will come from STTR funding from the NIH, a technology transfer grant intended to help small businesses get their technology out of the laboratory. Once this grant comes through, Dr. Bett will hire the company’s first full-time employee, a consultant with a fantastic resume and clinical research organization (CRO) experience. They currently have a few consultants with invaluable skill sets that are needed only on a part-time basis.
All in all, Dr. Bett feels incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity of participating in PSW. “It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year,” she said. “We met fantastic people. People who we discussed STTR with and who helped us with our 43North business plan, which we joined because it was advertised in PSW. The end of the second day [of PSW] was the deadline for 43North.” She took every opportunity that came her way, and this has led to her success.
“If you’re thinking about applying, just apply,” advised Dr. Bett, to future PSW participants. “If you have an idea, it’s a fantastic experience to test what you’re doing. Participants, work hard every day of it. The harder you work, the more you get from it.”
Photos courtesy of CytoCybernetics
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