Transforming Yesterday’s Emissions into Tomorrow’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel: United Announces Agreement with CO2 Utilization Company Dimensional Energy

CHICAGOJune 15, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — United and United Airlines Ventures (UAV) today announced an investment in and commercial agreement with Dimensional Energy, another step forward to reach United’s 100% green net zero commitment by 2050, without the use of traditional carbon offsets. Dimensional Energy’s novel technology removes the need for fossil fuels, converting carbon dioxide and water into usable ingredients for the Fischer-Tropsch process – a nearly 100-year-old proven technology used to produce fuels from coal or methane. While facilities around the world continue to use Fischer-Tropsch to produce fossil fuels, Dimensional will be one of the first to use it to produce sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

Under the commercial agreement, United has agreed to purchase at least 300 million gallons of SAF over 20 years from Dimensional. This agreement further cements United’s status as an airline industry leader in sustainability. United’s SAF agreements represent the largest volume of SAF of any airline over the next 20 years, based on publicly announced agreements.

“Sometimes you have to look to the past to solve new problems, and we recognize that decarbonizing air travel is going to require combining proven technologies, such as Fischer-Tropsch, with the latest advances in science and engineering,” said Michael Leskinen, President of United Airlines Ventures. “As we grow our portfolio of companies like Dimensional, we are creating opportunities to scale these early-stage technologies and achieve United’s commitment carbon neutrality by 2050, without the use of traditional carbon offsets.”

Dimensional Energy was founded in Ithaca, New York, in 2016 and has spent the last six years refining its reactors and catalysts in both lab and real-world demonstrations. The company’s early success led to its status as a finalist in the first Carbon Xprize, and in September 2021, global climate technology nonprofit investor Elemental Excelerator funded Dimensional as part of its 10th cohort, which led to the company’s introduction to United. Dimensional has also received grants from the National Science Foundation and both the Department of Energy’s ARPA-e and Solar Energy Technology Office (SETO). The company began construction on a carbon dioxide to fuels demo in Tucson, Arizona in 2021. Commissioning of the facility has already begun, and it is set to begin operation this July.

“I am continually impressed by the team at Dimensional Energy as we scale our advanced carbon dioxide to fuels technology. On top of delivering clear environmental impact, our business model includes delivering durable benefit to local communities through creative partnerships. We envision a world run on conflict-free energy. United’s support of sustainable aviation fuel made from captured emissions is an important step in the aviation industry’s pursuit of carbon neutrality,” said Dimensional Energy Co-founder and CEO Jason Salfi.

Dimensional’s technology can run on all forms of renewable energy. At the Tucson site, they are using electricity from the Arizona grid, which gets an increasing amount of power from local solar panels. Future plants are slated to use hydro-power, wind-power and rapidly maturing concentrated solar, which utilizes heat from direct sunlight.

Dimensional can also utilize carbon dioxide from a variety of sources, be it straight from industrial sites (like cement plants), from Direct Air Capture (a technology that can capture CO2 from anywhere in the world), and biological processes like fermentation and biomass gasification.

Today’s announcement marks UAV’s fourth SAF-related technology investment, but its first the pathway of power-to-liquids: which creates SAF synthetically without the constraints of feedstock growth that is prevalent in other biofuel pathways. Launched in 2021, UAV targets startups, upcoming technologies, and sustainability concepts that will complement United’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050 – without relying on traditional carbon offsets. Over the last decade, United has built a first-of-its-kind sustainability-focused ventures fund. UAV’s portfolio now includes SAF producers and other technologies including carbon capture, hydrogen-electric engines, electric regional aircraft, and urban air mobility.



‘Go-getter’ director nurtures McGovern incubator to maturity

When Lou Walcer ’74 stepped into the new business incubator space on Weill Hall’s fourth floor 10 years ago, he saw a blank canvas of opportunity.

The Kevin M. McGovern ’70 Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences was entirely painted white, with empty laboratory benches and shelving, blank walls, new office furniture and a few conference rooms.

In time, it would become filled with fledging life sciences companies getting their start with the help of Walcer, the McGovern Center’s founding director.


Research engineer Sarah Poole, back, and Joel Tabb, co-founder and president of startup Ionica Sciences, watch as samples are distributed onto a proprietary Lyme disease assay plate using an automated liquid handling system, at the McGovern Center laboratory in 2019.

“The role of the incubator is not just to provide a bunk for baby companies,” Walcer says. “The role is to propel their development by making them integral members of the Cornell community, and making Cornell’s immense resources available to them – without jeopardizing our role as a nonprofit institution.”

Since it opened in 2011, the center has helped clients earn $130 million in equity investment, $25 million in product and service revenue, and about $30 million in Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants – highly competitive federal research programs that seek potential startups for commercialization.

The McGovern Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary and throughout the success, the one constant has been Walcer.

‘We need a go-getter’

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Lindenhurst, New York, Walcer started his Cornell student career as an engineering major, then veered toward biology, turned briefly to Spanish and landed as an English major with a bent toward medicine.

After graduation, through networking and a nudge from the Cornell employment placement office, Walcer was first hired as a copywriter with William Douglas McAdams, a prominent New York City ad agency specializing in medical and pharmaceutical advertising.

Walcer continued working in advertising while he concurrently pursued an MBA from New York University. He then switched to the “client” side, serving in a variety of positions in marketing, business development, and mergers and acquisitions with major multinational pharmaceutical companies.


“I see us as the concierge. You need a special microscope? It’s over here. You need a machine shop? It’s over there. Every obscure piece of equipment that a startup needs probably exists somewhere on the Cornell campus.”

Lou Walcer

Leaving New York, he turned to the Midwest. Walcer was recruited as a business officer and a consultant for a young company in Cleveland, helping other midwestern startups as well.

Ultimately Walcer served as president and general manager of a company making medical devices for drug delivery. When it was sold in 2005, the Cleveland Clinic recruited him to incubate medical startups. He had a knack for the complexities of growing young companies.

Meanwhile, in the throes of the Great Recession in 2008, the late Robert Buhrman, M.S. ’69, Ph.D. ’73, Cornell’s senior vice provost for research, knew the kind of person he wanted to direct Cornell’s newly built Weill Hall business incubator space. Its mission would be to offer premier lab space and give scientists quality business acumen.

“We need a go-getter,” Buhrman said at the time, “who can interface well with the inventors, as well as with the investors.”

Months after Buhrman initiated his search for a McGovern Center director, Lou and his wife, Roberta Bandel Walcer ’74, were driving long distance one weekend. As Roberta thumbed through Cornell Alumni Magazine, she noticed an advertisement for the McGovern Center job.

She read the position description aloud to Lou, then said, “This sounds like it’s your job at the Cleveland Clinic, only this is for Cornell.”

Lou now says with a smile: “Let’s just say I was strongly encouraged to apply.”

He got the job.

A key role

Walcer developed the philosophy that would set the McGovern Center apart from similar programs across the country.

Walcer gives each company that enters the incubator the key to the city – so to speak. He had a large key specially made and presents it during a photo opportunity when new companies join.

“I see us as the concierge,” Walcer says. “You need a special microscope? It’s over here. You need a machine shop? It’s over there. Every obscure piece of equipment that a startup needs probably exists somewhere on the Cornell campus.

“The whole idea of the key emerged out of that,” he says. “When we bring a new client into the center, it’s like ‘Welcome, you now have the key to Cornellville.’”


McGovern Center Director Lou Walcer presents the ceremonial key to Hao Shi and Iwijn De Vlaminck, associate professor of biomedical engineering, executives in the new company Kanvas Biosciences. As startups enter the center, they get a “key” to campus.

Walcer introduces startups to key mentors, shows them established state and national programs to fill gaps in expertise or funding, or simply offers good ideas.

Adam Boyko, associate professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and his brother Ryan Boyko had developed canine swab tests to find the genetic basis for dog diseases and traits. Eventually, their venture would bring about the Embark Breed + Health DNA kit.

In the case of Embark, Walcer managed to mine the College of Veterinary Medicine’s strong alumni system to answer the startup’s marketing surveys. After asking hundreds of veterinary college alumni how they would use this DNA kit in their own practices, Embark built its business model around those responses.

And when Zymtronix joined the McGovern Center in 2014, it stabilized enzymes to clean up toxic water leftover from fracking. But getting traction was tough. Walcer suggested that the company offer its enzyme stabilization to a diverse set of businesses.

Zymtronix now develops stabilized enzymes for a range of commercial uses, including pharmaceutical and agricultural applications, as well as for the food, flavor and fragrance industries – where precision enzymes are needed.

In early 2020, Zymtronix formed a strategic agreement with Tate & Lyle PLC, a large British-based food manufacturer, to help create ingredients.

Stéphane Corgié, CEO of Zymtronix, has gained an appreciation for the business world under Walcer’s watchful eye. “Business is not a straight path,” he says.

Zymtronix has leveraged McGovern resources including a handful of skilled executives-in-residence – former company presidents, financial and venture capital experts, a pharmaceutical professional – and a large team of volunteer mentors.

The executives-in-residence and the volunteer mentors, along with Walcer, provide an intangible factor, Corgié notes.

“When you start a company, and especially if it’s in technology, you need people who can reassure you,” he says. “That’s where Lou has been excellent – listening, advising and reassuring.”


Kristina Hugar, Ph.D. ’15, from left, and Gabriel G. Rodríguez-Calero, M.S. ’12, Ph.D. ’14, co-founders of Ecolectro, and Sarah Nathan, Ph.D. ’18, an analytical chemist with Ecolectro, a McGovern Center startup, examine a prototype polymer batch prior to shipping to an industry partner at Ecolectro’s Ithaca headquarters, located off campus.

Startups arrive

Gaining admittance into the McGovern Center is not easy.

When startups apply, Walcer uses several factors in the center’s “screener,” a rigorous assessment tool to determine potential. Retrospective linear regression analysis has shown that the screener proves to be a good measure of probable success. He prepares a full report and presents it to the McGovern Center Advisory Council for consideration.

“Lou’s process for assessing indicators of success and screening tools give the center’s Advisory Council the information they need to identify outstanding applicants,” says Emmanuel Giannelis, vice president for research and innovation.

“That process, coupled with the sense of family and dynamic mentorship that Lou provides continuously to the companies after their admission,” Giannelis says, “offers a framework for success with metrics to be almost unbelievable.”

Of the total 25 client companies over the past decade, seven have graduated – meaning they have enough venture funding to make it on their own. Fourteen startups remain active and four have exited.

In the U.S., there are about 1,400 business incubators, according to the International Business Innovation Association. UBI Global, an international incubator network, ranked the McGovern Center among the top 10 in 2015. “They stand out from average-performing incubation programs with better outcomes on economy enhancement, access to funds and post-incubation performance indicators,” the group said.


Hao Shi Ph.D. ’20, co-founder and CEO of Kanvas Biosciences – the McGovern Center’s newest client – conducts research at the company’s new laboratory space there.

Companies that have graduated include Agronomic Technology – based on technology by Harold Van Es, professor of soil and water management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – who developed Adapt-N, a precision farming tool that helps farmers improve nitrogen fertilizer use. The group spent a year at the McGovern Center and graduated in 2015 – the center’s shortest tenured group. By late 2017, the company was purchased by Yara International, the world’s largest fertilizer maker, for an undisclosed amount.

“Lou brings to McGovern an incredible amount of enthusiasm for innovation and entrepreneurship, coupled with his extensive experience in business development,” Giannelis says. “His steady leadership has kept the McGovern Center and its client startups on a path of strong growth.”

The center’s newest client is Kanvas Biosciences, led by Iwijn De Vlaminck, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, and chief executive officer Hao Shi, Ph.D. ’20. The company uses a novel way to rapidly identify, quantify and map microbial organisms from any specimen with single-cell resolution and at a fraction of the cost of previous methods.

At the McGovern Center, the technology and the science are important. But the business stands front and center to optimize the commercialization of that science, Stéphane Corgié explained: “There is a path to success – and that path includes listening to the McGovern Center team of business advisers and listening to Lou.”

Dog DNA startup announces $75M in venture funding

Embark Veterinary, Inc. – a canine genetics startup company that graduated from Cornell’s McGovern Center business incubator in late 2017 – announced $75 million in venture funding on July 26.

Founded in 2015 by Adam Boyko, associate professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and his brother Ryan Boyko, Embark’s CEO, the company will use the funding to make key hires and strengthen an ever-growing canine genetics database – with a goal to help dogs gain healthier and longer lives.

Like human genetics testing to find relatives or countries of origin, pet owners, breeders, or veterinarians can swab a dog’s mouth, send it in for the results, and confirm specific breeds and explore which genetic diseases the dog may be at risk for.

“We’ve been in the dog genetics realm for well over a decade, even though we’re nearing the sixth anniversary of Embark,” Adam Boyko said. “It’s been a labor of love to understand the origins of dogs, and through genetics, we are understanding dog behavior, looking for predisposition to illness and to understand canine aging.”

This round of funding was led by Lydia Jett of SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with other investors that include F-Prime Capital, SV Angel, Slow Ventures, Freestyle Capital and Third Kind Venture Capital.

Embark’s Dog DNA Kit can test and determine over 350 breeds, and more than 200 genetic health risks, by employing proprietary genotyping technology that analyzes 200,000 genetic markers, according to the company.

By the end of 2021, Embark will have processed nearly 1 million tests from owners, breeders and veterinarians, according to the company. This creates the world’s largest database of canine health and biological information, enabling Embark to make discoveries about health risks, traits and breeds and help dog owners, breeders and veterinarians to create tailored health care plans.

In 2018, Embark scientists published in PLOS Genetics the first consumer data-driven DNA research that explained why Siberian Huskies are associated with piercing blue eyes. With a large genetic database, the group had discovered a novel link with the dog’s chromosome 18.

In January 2016, Embark joined the McGovern Center, where it began to leverage university resources, according to Lou Walcer ‘74, the center’s director. The College of Veterinary Medicine’s alumni network answered the startup’s surveys, which helped forge Embark’s business model.

“Having the mentorship of Lou Walcer and the other mentors in the McGovern incubator provided valuable lessons; plus we were surrounded by other startups, which were at various stages,” Boyko said.

Embark was a corporate sponsor of the Ruff and Fluff teams at the Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XIII in 2017 – the company swabbed all 78 pup participants. Additionally, Embark became the official dog DNA test of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2019.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that there’s nothing more important than the health of our family – and pets are a big part of our families,” said Ryan Boyko. “We’re proud to be partnering with veterinarians, breeders and dog owners all around the world to substantially increase the life and health span for all dogs, and – ultimately – for humans as well.”



Dimensional Energy emerges as $20M Carbon X Prize finalist

Dimensional Energy – a Cornell McGovern Center startup company that can capture industrial carbon dioxide and then convert it by way of sunshine into an environmentally friendly products like aviation fuel – has emerged as one of two finalists in the $20 million Carbon X Prize competition.

The contest’s winner will be announced this summer.

After developing small-scale models on the laboratory bench at the McGovern Center, Dimensional Energy brought their pilot reactor to Gillette, Wyoming, last fall for a long stretch of scaled-up testing. The group successfully demonstrated their technology with a 10-ton per year scale proof-of-concept solar fuels reactor that can turn carbon dioxide into a carbon-neutral fuel.

“We found that our conversion had percentage numbers that were high and successful, validating the whole process for the Carbon X Prize finals,” said Jason Salfi, Dimensional Energy’s cofounder and chief executive officer. “We have validated all the modeling we’d been doing for years, but now at a larger scale. The reaction ran as close to equilibrium conversion as we modeled the entire time – for about 10 weeks – without any degradation in catalytic performance. We got it done.”

In 2018, Dimensional Energy joined the McGovern Center and began pioneering artificial photosynthesis to produce environmentally green polymers and chemicals. Before the gaseous, industrial waste carbon dioxide ends up in the atmosphere, it is captured. After adding hydrogen and sunlight to the carbon dioxide in a reactor, it can emerge as a useful liquid fuel for aviation and surface transportation, or if desired, more durable products like plastic.

The pilot reactor was moved late last year from Wyoming to its new home in Tucson, Arizona – where ample sunshine exists – for the finishing touches in research.

Dimensional Energy started when New York’s entrepreneurial pipeline pieces worked perfectly. 

Tobias Hanrath, the Marjorie L. Hart ’50 Professor in Engineering, in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and David Erickson, the S.C. Thomas Sze Director of the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, had both applied independently for grants from NEXUS-NY –  a clean energy business accelerator funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

NEXUS-NY recognized that the two Cornell professors’ ideas were closely related and introduced them. The professors, along with Salfi and entrepreneur Clayton Poppe, who were working for NEXUS-NY as mentors, formed the startup company Dimensional Energy in 2016. All of them worked with NEXUS-NY to develop the current concept.


Global startup summit taps Zymtronix as challenge finalist

Cornell startup Zymtronix – an industrial biotech company serving the pharmaceutical, food, agricultural and chemical industries – has been selected as a challenge finalist at the Hello Tomorrow 2020 global summit, March 11-13 in Paris.

The Hello Tomorrow group scouts the world for cutting-edge technology applied in the digital, quantum physics, biology, biotech and new-material realms.

“Hello Tomorrow is the equivalent of the Olympic games for ‘deep tech’ startups,” said Stéphane Corgié, CEO of Zymtronix, which is housed in Cornell’s McGovern Center.

“This is huge for us. This is huge for Cornell University,” Corgié said. “Deep technologies are challenging to translate from the lab into commercialization.


It starts with big ideas that can change the world, patents to protect those ideas, a demonstration of those ideas and execution to make those ideas into marketable products.”

Evaluating more than 5,000 applications from startup technology companies, Hello Tomorrow selected 80 finalists in 14 categories. Corgié will be among those finalists giving a three-minute pitch at Cent Quatre, Paris, to an audience of investors, representatives from major corporations, researchers, other startups and technology media.

Pitch winners in each of the 14 categories will get 10,000 euros (approximately $11,000). Those top pitchers then will make a one-minute final pitch. From there, the ultimate winner will receive 100,000 euros (approximately $110,000).

Zymtronix was selected as only one of six technology pioneers in industrial biotechnology, placing it in the top 2% of all applications from around the world. This is the first Cornell technology group selected for Hello Tomorrow’s final round.

“This is a chance for Zymtronix to be on a global stage, to network with global companies and share our work with some of the biggest entities in these industrial segments,” said Marie Donnelly, Ph.D. ’13, the bioengineering lead for Zymtronix.

Incorporated in 2013 by founders Corgié and Juan Diego Alonso, JD-MBA ’14, Zymtronix has since leveraged Cornell’s patents to provide materials and processes for cost-effective enzyme stabilization to enable green production methods. The company serves the pharmaceutical, agricultural, chemical, fragrances, and food, flavor and beverage industries.

Zymtronix’s adaptable materials allow precise control of enzyme performance. Similar to how wet sand can be formed into castles, Zymtronix metamaterials and enzymes can form structures that trap the enzymes in order to maximize productivity for industrial processes by making them reusable. These enzyme scaffolds can be adopted by manufacturers to produce ingredients for pharmaceutical, flavoring, fragrance, food, beverage and agricultural applications.

Last week, Zymtronix announced a strategic agreement with Tate & Lyle PLC, a British-based food ingredient manufacturer, for developing new ingredients, scaling-up and manufacturing.

“Pitching at Hello Tomorrow is fantastic recognition that we have been taking the right steps toward production at an industrial scale,” Corgié said.

Nerve-healing startup Renerva joins McGovern incubator

Renerva, a medical startup that is developing an injectable gel to speed the healing of damaged nerves and creating an off-the-shelf nerve-graft product that may spare patients life-long disability, has joined Cornell’s McGovern Center life sciences business incubator.

The company was formed concurrently at Cornell and the University of Pittsburgh.

“We’ve developed a novel way of manipulating nerve repair and improving the recovery of nerves,” said Jonathan Cheetham, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and chair of the company’s scientific advisory board.

“Other technology has focused on the late stages of nerve healing,” Cheetham said. “What we’re doing is trying to influence the early part of nerve healing that may lead to improved nerve function outcomes for patients down the road.”

Renerva’s first product, Peripheral Nerve Matrix, is an injectable hydrogel derived from porcine tissue that acts like a scaffold. It supports nerve-cell growth and tissue formation, said Bryan Brown, Renerva’s chief technology officer and an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a former Cornell postdoctoral researcher.

Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from peripheral nerve injuries or problems, and peripheral nerve regeneration is slow and not always complete, Brown said.

“Acute nerve injuries don’t heal well, so more than half of the patients have unsatisfactory outcomes,” he said. “This is a material that can be injected into the nerve – after a surgical repair – to speed and enhance the recovery, improve a patient’s quality of life and help them heal faster.”

Renerva’s second product, which could offer surgeons an “off-the-shelf” nerve graft that restores motor and sensory function, is in development. It could spare patients complications, discomfort and loss of function associated with nerve autografts, according to Lorenzo Soletti, Renerva’s president and chief executive officer.

“Renerva epitomizes the research nature of Cornell,” said Lou Walcer, director of the McGovern Center. “The company uses University research and technology, and it is extending that technology to help patients alleviate problems and pain. This is quite exciting.”

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense provided $2.4 million through a Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium award to Renerva to complete a preclinical program and begin human trials. Additionally, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health awarded $500,000 to accelerate development of the company’s products.

Peripheral Nerve Matrix is expected to enter clinical trials this year.


Two McGovern Center startups graduate from incubator

With a pinch of pomp and circumstance, Cornell’s McGovern Center life sciences business incubator recently graduated two companies – Bactana Corp. and Conamix.

“Entrepreneurship is a part of Cornell’s founding mission as New York state’s land-grant university – [where researchers can] discover and disseminate knowledge for the benefit of people across the state and beyond,” Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff said Sept. 24 at the McGovern graduation ceremony.

Conamix’s Charles Hamilton speaks about his company at the McGovern Center’s graduation.

“With the aid of venture development and incubation, entrepreneurs are putting research and inventions to good use,” Kotlikoff said. “Conamix and Bactana were both selected by the McGovern Center for the excellence of the science behind their products, their potential for commercial success and the potential benefits to society.”

Bactana, steeped in Cornell veterinary research, is developing products for companion animals to improve digestive health and for livestock to increase feed efficiency and weight gain while reducing morbidity and mortality. The company originally explored the benefits of their naturally occurring bacterium by introducing them into livestock to stave off disease and promote healthy growth.

For decades, antibiotics have been used liberally to promote growth and prevent disease in livestock throughout the United States and around the world.

Rodrigo Bicalho, Ph.D. ’08, associate professor of dairy production medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine and chief scientific officer at Bactana, said that because loading livestock with antibiotics contributes significantly to human antibiotic resistance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration implemented the Veterinary Feed Directive, created by the Animal Drug Availability Act of 1996. This bans antibiotics from being administered to livestock as a precaution.

John Kallassy, MBA ’03, Bactana’s chief executive officer, said as livestock producers seek new and cost-effective alternatives, Bactana’s breakthrough technology is ripe to fulfill this emerging demand.

In his remarks at the graduation ceremony, Kallassy said: “It takes a village to create a successful company. And if the McGovern Center was our village, Lou Walcer (director of the McGovern Center) is the mayor and he helped make important connections and navigate resources in and outside the Cornell community.”

Conamix produces advanced materials for rechargeable batteries – materials that can yield 30% to 50% more energy than current batteries. The company was founded by Charles Hamilton ’95, chief executive officer; Bart Riley, Ph.D. ’90, chief technical officer; and Tobias Hanrath, professor in Cornell’s Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and it runs in part on technology developed by Hector Abruña, the Emile M. Chamot Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

“Conamix simply wouldn’t exist in its current form without the partnership and support of Cornell and the McGovern Center every step of the way,” said Hamilton. “In fact, our very first funding was from the Cornell Technology Advancement and Maturation award.”

Conamix has garnered a $10 million investment from Volta Energy Technology Partners, Hegemon Capital, and from New York state’s Innovation Venture Capital Fund.

Rapid Lyme disease test may be available in late 2020

The drawn-out process for diagnosing Lyme disease could become a thing of the past – good news for the thousands of people each year who get the tick-borne illness.

A new detection test created by Ionica Sciences – located at Cornell’s McGovern Center life sciences incubator – has been sparked by a FuzeHub grant to begin moving from the laboratory bench into approvals, production and doctors’ offices.

Sarah Poole and Joel Tabb of Ionica Sciences examine samples incubating on a proprietary Lyme disease assay plate.

“For a long time, the medical community has wanted to detect Lyme disease directly, but the marker proteins are at very low levels and medicine has relied on tests of the body’s immune response – which sometimes takes weeks,” said Joel Tabb, president and co-founder of Ionica Sciences. “We have resolved this problem and can directly detect those markers in a very small blood sample. It’s a major breakthrough.”

Ionica Sciences, which joined the McGovern Center in 2014, has developed a serum-based assay called IonLyme that targets the blood protein Osp-A, which provides an active-protein “fingerprint” left behind by the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

If a patient’s skin shows a rash resembling a bull’s-eye, the body’s response to Lyme disease has started. But confirmation of the disease can take weeks, since the body’s immune response usually has not reached detectable levels yet. New and old infections cannot be differentiated.

The new test uses an aptamer (a single-stranded DNA molecule) that binds with the Lyme disease target protein. A clinician places a patient’s blood sample on a proprietary surface that reacts with the target protein, where its presence is determined using a surface-enhanced Raman scattering spectrometer.

“This test is capable of finding a Lyme disease infection or reinfection quickly,” said Omar Green, chief executive office and co-founder. “Once you are exposed to Lyme, the antibodies can be present for decades; and once you are positive, it’s almost impossible now to determine if you were infected last week, last month, last year or in the 1990s. Our test also will be able to differentiate a fresh infection from an old one – a test that isn’t available to clinicians today.”

Tabb and Green believe the test could be available to doctors by late 2020. Before that, Ionica Sciences must complete its test validation with samples from Lyme patients, and then transfer the test to a qualified laboratory partner to make it available to clinicians, Tabb said.

Nationally, the majority of Lyme disease cases occur in the northeastern United States; the disease also has a heavy presence in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 2017, a total of 42,743 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tabb said this CDC total number is likely  an undercount, and there could be as many as 300,000 cases annually.

In 2017, Pennsylvania recorded the most confirmed and probable cases, at 11,900. New York was a distant second with 5,155 cases; New Jersey had 5,092.

Tick-borne diseases practically doubled from 2004-16, according to the CDC; Lyme disease accounted for 82% of all tick-borne cases.

“This is a strong proprietary test that can confirm Lyme disease and hunt for the proteins to determine if the disease is active,” said Lou Walcer, director of the McGovern Center. “This test will offer a valuable, certifiable service to doctors and their patients.”

FuzeHub is a non-profit organization that serves as the statewide New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership center, supported by Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation.


McGovern Center Graduate EMBARK digs up $10M bones to end preventable disease in dogs

Biotech startup raises Series A funding to build out the world’s largest database of canine DNA for genetic disease research

Boston, MA (April 10, 2019)—Boston-based Embark Veterinary Inc., the world leader in dog genetics, announced today that it raised $10 million in Series A funding, a milestone that enables the young biotech company to build on its early consumer success and expand its research in canine health and genetic disease. Dog DNA has inherently fewer privacy concernsand dogs’ faster generation times can lead researchers to a more rapid pace of discovery thanpossible in human genetic studies. Canine DNA research, historically underfunded, is now nipping at the heels of human genetics research, with Embark leading the pack.

“Owners want to know all about their dogs – not just the breed, but the genetic markers thatcan shed light on possible diseases they may face in the future,” said Ryan Boyko, Embark’s CEOand co-founder. “Embark provides that critical information with comprehensive and accuratetesting that is unique in canine genetics. Some of the most common diseases found in dogs are genetic conditions – bladder stones, heart disease, and cancer can be traced genetically. This round of funding allows us to move faster to provide more information to existing customers while doubling down on research to ensure that all the dogs live healthier lives.” In 2018, Embark tripled its database, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands of canine DNA samples. It’s the only canine DNA test that looks at the dog genome with as much resolution as human DNA tests look at the human genome. Embark plans to use the funding to expand its team, doubling in size over the next year.

This round of funding was led by F-Prime Capital, with participation from previous investors including Slow Ventures, Section 32, Third Kind Venture Capital, Freestyle Capital, FJ Labs, and Anne Wojciciki, CEO of 23andme.

“Embark has rapidly made significant strides in canine health,” said Carl Byers, partner, F-PrimeCapital. “They’re a company founded by scientists who are combining scientific researchprinciples with an easy-to-understand consumer interface that is changing the way we approach caring for our dogs.” Embark’s Dog DNA Test consistently ranks highest in the marketfor dog DNA tests and is also used by thousands of dog breeders to make informed breeding decisions.

Founded in 2015 by brothers Ryan and Adam Boyko, in partnership with Cornell UniversityCollege of Veterinary Medicine, Embark uses a simple swab of a dog’s mouth to test for morethan 170 health conditions. Embark is the only canine genetics company that uses a research- grade DNA genotyping platform, similar to those that back human direct-to-consumer genetictests. “We took the approach that dogs are cherished family members, and deserve theaccuracy and health potential being created for people. So, we built a genetic test that provides accuracy and actionability for our customers. By doing this, we’re creating a genetic databasethat can make key veterinary discoveries possible like never before. Our customerssimultaneously improve the lives of their dogs today and every dog born in the future,” saidRyan Boyko.


McGovern Center Graduate Sterifre Medical Announces the Successful Completion of its Series B Financing

KIRKLAND, Wash., July 29, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Sterifre Medical, Inc., today announced that it has officially raised $8 million in a Series B private equity round of financing. Sterifre had previously raised $12 million in a 2017 Series A offering, bringing total capital financing to $20 million to date. The company is commercializing a suite of products based on an innovative disinfection and sterilization technology to address the acute need for rapid, point-of-care device disinfection in healthcare facilities.

“Proceeds from the Series B financing will fund our initial commercialization in the U.S. Acute Care Market beginning early next year,” said Richard Shea, CEO of Sterifre. “We appreciate the ongoing support of our investment partners. This financing will enable the company to play a unique role in increasing staff and patient safety.”

Preventing healthcare-acquired infections is a key challenge for hospital staff. Handheld portable medical equipment can harbor pathogenic communicable organisms such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Pseudomonas, Influenza, Staphylococcus Aureus, Clostridioides Difficile and other harmful bacteria, viruses and spores. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 31 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection, and more than one in 17 (98,000 patients) dies from them. In addition, the U.S. healthcare system spends billions each year battling these infections.  

Sterifre’s patented technology, called Aura™, is a compact one-touch system that treats multiple organisms on hard-surface items used in doctors’ offices and hospitals. A fully automated medical device disinfection system, it replaces manual processes that are frequently deployed incorrectly, damaging to equipment and ineffective.

A New Solution for Challenging Environments
The Instructions for Use published with point of care medical devices prescribe specific chemical disinfectants chosen for compatibility with each device’s surface materials. “Selecting the proper wipe-based chemical for a specific device in the fast-paced healthcare setting is challenging for any provider,” Shea explained. “Often the proper chemistry-based solution is not readily available at the point of use and a substitute is chosen strictly out of the need to complete the disinfection task.”

By adding the Aura system to Instructions for Use, Shea said, “medical device manufacturers help customers protect their equipment investment, automate the manual disinfection process and reduce environmental impact.”

Preventing Materials Issues Following Disinfectant Usage
Materials such as plastics compounds, glues and the coatings of display screens are susceptible to corrosion, cracking, fogging and general material destruction over repeated exposure to many commonly used chemical disinfectants. Yet, the various manual ‘wipes’ and sprays typically used to deliver these chemistries can be both very abrasive and corrosive. 

“Multiple studies have shown that the use of improper disinfectants results in Environmental Stress Cracking and premature device failure,” Shea noted. “These harmful effects can be virtually eliminated by using Sterifre’s Aura™ point of care system to disinfect these devices – while still achieving the appropriate EPA regulated pathogen kill.”

A New Approach to Rapid Disinfection
Aura enables the safe and effective use of Hydrogen Peroxide, the widely recognized microbicide, via a novel approach that does not damage the items being processed. This extends equipment’s useful life, delivers standardized disinfection without exposing users to chemicals and reduces the cost of infection control.

The company is actively pursuing registration with the EPA for common problematic pathogenic organisms found in the healthcare setting. Sterifre believes Aura will be the first technology of its kind to achieve full EPA approval.

Aura is a game-changer for infection control,” concluded Shea, the former CEO of Olympus Respiratory America, a leader in novel treatments for patients with severe COPD; and one of the founding executives of Stericycle Inc. (SRCL), a worldwide leader in infection control related products and services.

About Sterifre
Sterifre Medical, Inc., is a privately held medical technology company located in Kirkland, Wash., focused on commercializing innovative, cost effective, environmentally friendly approaches to protect patients and caregivers from the pathogenic organisms that contribute to complications associated with hospital acquired infections that result in more than 100,000 annual deaths. Find the company online at