Healing Hydrogels

George Davis, Gemstone Therapeutics

George Davis, Gemstone Therapeutics

In a spacious triangular-shaped office with huge windows that overlook the Jones Falls, Baltimore investor George Davis is back in the CEO seat, engaged in one of his favorite pursuits – launching a technology startup.

With partner Dave Oros, Davis and a few others have made a major investment through Gamma 3 LLC in one of the first ventures incubated through the Johns Hopkins FastForward Accelerator. In fact, the investors see such promise in the wound-healing gel that Davis has decided to step in and run the company himself.

“We have several plays right now,” says Davis, of Gamma 3, founded in 2012 to stimulate high-tech business in Baltimore. “But we think we can move this one fast.”

What has investors so excited? A hydrogel developed by Whiting School of Engineering Associate Professor Sharon Gerecht that shows amazing potential to heal skin wounds in animals and, possibly, humans. Gerecht’s lab has already undertaken studies of the gel’s healing properties in mice and pig studies are currently underway. “We might even be able to have a product for the veterinary market by the end of 2014,” Davis says.

Soon after an initial $100,000 investment, Gamma 3 upped its involvement, forming Gemstone Therapeutics LLC, and entering into an exclusive licensing deal with Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer for all seven of Gerecht’s patents. Gamma, Gerecht and Johns Hopkins University now each have an equity stake in Gemstone, which to date has raised roughly $1 million to get the first product into the veterinary market.

HEALING HYDROGEL: Associate Professor Sharon Gerecht, here with postdoc Guoming Sun, calls the properties of the hydrogels “amazing.” (Photo by Will Kirk / Homewood Photography)

Associate Professor Sharon Gerecht, here with postdoc Guoming Sun, calls the properties of the hydrogels “amazing.”

While the veterinary application looks promising, Davis says, the Holy Grail is treating human conditions such as third-degree burns, surgical wounds, and diabetic ulcers. “Sharon already has been working with the clinicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the burn unit,” says Davis, “So we are very encouraged, even though we know we have many regulatory hurdles.”

The U.S. wound care market has been estimated at as much as $21 billion annually. And while many large companies dominate, Davis says there is room in niche markets, such as the treatment of diabetic ulcers. “The key is pricing the product right,” he says, “And we think we can do that.”

Eventually, the startup plans to look at developing stem cell-based products for wound healing, gearing up toward a broader focus on tissue engineering.

Oros and Davis, both well known in Baltimore, have been acquainted since their days at Westinghouse Electric Corp., and later when they launched Aether Systems Inc. in the 1990s. Most recently, they founded Gamma 3 as a “local investment initiative.”

“We’re Baltimore guys,” says Davis. “We want to see businesses stay here. Johns Hopkins is ripe with technology, and we know how to take it to the next level.”

 

For more information about Gemstone Therapeutics, contact Ian Tolfree/410-516-8533