ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 10, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Statewide leaders of Florida's life sciences industry representing biopharmaceutical, medical technology, and digital health companies, globally recognized research universities, and some of the leading non-profit research institutes in the world united at the BioFlorida Annual Conference to celebrate the unprecedented progress, growth, and collaboration in science, business, and public policy and collaborate to spur future growth.
"Florida has firmly established itself as a leading life science destination in the nation representing 6,700 establishments and research organizations that employ nearly 94,000 Floridians," said Nancy K. Bryan, President and CEO of BioFlorida. "Our strong foundation and sustained growth allowed our Florida-based companies, research organizations, universities, and health systems to diagnose, treat, and prevent COVID-19 while continuing to progress in other therapeutic areas. The Conference allowed our industry to celebrate these successes, identify the best practices, and apply it to areas like cancer, Alzheimer's, and other diseases that impact our family, friends, and neighbors."
The Conference explored topics ranging from new strategies in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, immuno-oncology, gene and cell therapy to diversity, equity, and inclusion to emerging trends and company successes in the various life science sectors led by CEOs and executive leadership from Florida-based companies.
The keynote speaker at the Conference was John F. Crowley, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, a global biotechnology company advancing transformative therapies for a range of rare and devastating diseases and harnessing the promise of gene therapy. Crowley shared his personal and professional experiences with rare diseases, his bold vision for the company, and perspectives on the future of genetic medicine that could greatly benefit people living with rare genetic diseases in Florida and beyond.
The Spotlight on Innovation session showcased three companies that have exhibited transformational growth: Akron Bio (Boca Raton/Sarasota, FL), Hesperos Inc. (Orlando, FL), Lumos Diagnostics (Sarasota, FL), and Memic Innovative Surgery (Ft. Lauderdale, FL).
Seed and early-stage companies competed in BioPitch, an opportunity for some of the state's most innovative companies to pitch to life science investors. iTolerance (Miami), a data-driven and patient-centric regenerative medicine company working to enable implantable tissue, organoid, or cell therapy without the requirement for life-long immunosuppression, won the competition and received $10,000. Runners-up included AiM Medical Robotics (Ft. Lauderdale, FL), Inspira Therapeutics (Gainesville, FL), and Psilera (Tampa, FL).
BioFlorida recognized individuals and organizations throughout five unique categories for their incredible achievements, including two 2021 inaugural awards. This year's award recipients include:
Researcher of the Year Award
The inaugural Researcher of the Year Award recognizes distinguished researchers whose scientific achievements have significantly contributed to knowledge, innovation, and public health.
The inaugural Researcher of the Year Award was presented to Todd E. Golde, M.D., Ph.D., an international expert in the scientific understanding of Alzheimer's disease and the director of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida (MBI), which under his leadership forms multidisciplinary teams from all 16 colleges across the university to conduct some of the nation's highest-quality neuroscience research. Dr. Golde is principal investigator of the 1Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (1Florida ADRC), a University of Florida-led consortium of top research institutions that enrolls diverse research participants with and without memory disorders and tracks them for years to reveal factors that influence progression rates, using blood samples, cognitive testing and state-of-the-art brain imaging.
He has published more than 300 papers that have been cited more than 42,000 times and his research into Alzheimer's disease helped lay the foundation for the amyloid hypothesis and has made major contributions to the understanding of amyloid and tau pathologies, as well as the immune system's role in the disease. Dr. Golde has earned more than $60 million in NIH funding, is an inventor on over 12 patents and patent applications and is co-founder of two startup companies. Dr. Golde has worked to secure state support for Alzheimer's research at the University of Florida and to implement a statewide grants program to support Alzheimer's research.
In an effort to develop innovative new therapies to combat Alzheimer's disease, Dr. Golde's laboratory is exploring a large number of proteins believed to accumulate alongside amyloid and is also investigating the use of antibodies to target psychological stress pathways, thought to contribute to the disease. Dr. Golde's work is dedicated to broadening the understanding of Alzheimer's disease and other neurological and psychiatric disorders and changing them from untreatable to treatable, incurable to curable, and inevitable to preventable.
Deal of the Year Award
The inaugural Deal of the Year Award recognizes a deal, whether it be an equity investment, key license agreement, significant grant award, or other agreement, with a significant impact on innovation, public health, and the deal-flow ecosystem within Florida's life sciences industry.
The inaugural Deal of the Year Award was presented to Dvir Cohen, Co-founder, Chief Executive Officer and President of Memic Innovative Surgery, a medical device company founded in 2013 in Tel Aviv, Israel,f that has a wholly-owned subsidiary in Ft. Lauderdale.
The Deal of The Year is Memic's $96 million Series D financing to support the commercialization of the company's innovative Hominis® Surgical System in the U.S. The funding will also expand Memic strategies in medical team training, research, development, and manufacturing capabilities in Florida.
The Hominis® System is the first and only FDA-authorized surgical robot that features miniature humanoid-shaped arms able to deliver human level-dexterity and unprecedented reach and articulation in surgical procedures. The first application of this superior technology is for use in gynecologic surgery, supporting procedures that are less invasive with shorter recovery times and reduced risk of visible scarring.
Cohen has been a leader at Memic from its inception and has more than 15 years of experience in the development and manufacture of innovative robotic systems. He was previously an officer in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, specializing in robotic systems for various applications. From 2011 to 2013, Cohen was a research and development manager and robotic project specialist in an elite technology unit of the Israel Intelligence Force. From 2007 to 2011, he led several optomechanical disruptive solutions in the Ministry of Defense, one of which was awarded the Israel Defense Award.
Weaver H. Gaines Entrepreneur of the Year Award
The Weaver H. Gaines Entrepreneur of the Year Award honors an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the growth of Florida's life sciences industry.
The 2021 Weaver H. Gaines Entrepreneur of the Year Award was presented to Hing C. Wong, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of HCW Biologics Inc., a Miramar-based biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering and developing novel immunotherapies for the treatment of age-related diseases, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. Under Dr. Wong's leadership, HCW Biologics developed the TOBI™ platform, a proprietary technology used to engineer multi-functional fusion protein molecules and protein complexes capable of stimulating and targeting desired immune responses and inhibiting unwanted inflammation. To date, HCW Biologics has engineered more than 30 molecules. HCW Biologics is advancing the development of HCW9218 and HCW9302, its lead pipeline candidates, as immunotherapeutics that will be administered subcutaneously.
In July 2021, HCW Biologics completed its initial public offering under Dr. Wong's leadership, raised $56 million in gross proceeds, and listed the company's common stock on Nasdaq. More recently, the FDA cleared the company's Investigational New Drug (IND) application for a Phase 1b first-in-human clinical trial to evaluate HCW9218 in refractory pancreatic cancer. HCW Biologics is currently in talks with several highly respected NCI-Designated Cancer Centers to serve as trial sites and expects to initiate the study in the first half of 2022. The company also intends to have an investigator-initiated clinical trial to evaluate HCW9218 in solid tumors. This trial will include patients with breast, ovarian, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Meanwhile, through a license agreement with Wugen Inc., one of the molecules created by HCW Biologics is being evaluated in two Phase 2 clinical trials exploring a cell-based therapy treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
David J. Gury Company of the Year Award
The David J. Gury Company of the Year Award honors a company that has achieved significant milestones and has contributed to the growth of Florida's life sciences industry.
The Company of the Year is designated for a company or organization with significant achievements leading to the advancement of the life sciences in Florida.
The 2021 David J. Gury Company of the Year Award was presented to KemPharm, Inc., a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of proprietary prodrugs to treat serious medical conditions through its proprietary LAT® (Ligand Activated Therapy) technology.
Based in Celebration, Florida, KemPharm utilizes its proprietary LAT® technology to generate improved prodrug versions of FDA-approved drugs and generate prodrug versions of existing compounds that may have applications for new disease indications. KemPharm's prodrug product candidate pipeline is focused on the high need areas of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, stimulant use disorder (SUD), and CNS rare diseases, including idiopathic hypersomnia (IH). In addition, KemPharm has received FDA approval for AZSTARYS®, a new once-daily treatment for ADHD in patients age six years and older containing its prodrug, serdexmethylphenidate (SDX), and for APADAZ®, an immediate-release combination product containing benzhydrocodone, its prodrug of hydrocodone, and acetaminophen.
BioFlorida Leadership Award
The BioFlorida Leadership Award recognizes the BioFlorida volunteer who has taken on a leadership role within the organization, dedicated significant time to BioFlorida's mission, and has acted as a true ambassador to BioFlorida and the industry.
The 2021 recipient of the BioFlorida Leadership Award is Habeel Gazi, Senior Director of Business Development with a focus on life sciences and healthcare for the Orlando Economic Partnership.
Gazi focuses on building a more robust ecosystem for life sciences companies in the Central Florida region to grow and attract new players. Gazi has been involved in the life sciences innovation field for ten years. His direct experience was in the medical device and software space for neurosurgery, spinal surgery, and other orthopedic solutions. In his career, Habeel has had first-hand experience with product development, from concept to manufacturing, and securing FDA clearance and intellectual property rights, formerly serving as CEO of ARC Surgicals and at the UCF Life Sciences Incubator. He has also served as an Industry Mentor in the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program at the University of Central Florida and the National NSF I-Corps program. Gazi is a valued member of BioFlorida and serves as co-chair of the organization's Central Florida Chapter.
BioFlorida is the voice of Florida's life sciences industry, representing 6,700 establishments and research organizations in BioPharma, MedTech, Digital Health, and Health Systems that collectively employ nearly 94,000 Floridians (Source: TEConomy/BIO). BioFlorida's member driven initiatives provide a strong business climate for the advancement of innovative products and technology that improve lives and promote economic benefits to the state.