Unrecognizable scientist with a robot, mending or inventing.

Realtime Robotics Awarded Competitive Grant: $225,000

Small Business Innovation Research Program Provides Seed Funding for R&D

Realtime Robotics has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $225,000 to conduct research and development (R&D) work on Risk-Aware Motion Planning for Autonomous Vehicles.

realtime robotics logo

This R&D work will change the way that autonomous vehicles plan their motions, particularly in challenging urban driving scenarios.  Realtime Robotics is working on a special-purpose computer processor that can plan thousands of times faster than existing solutions, and this speed will enable it to make many plans at a time, each of which considers a different possible set of behaviors from the other agents—cars, bicycles, pedestrians—in the environment.  This technology will enable risk-aware, normal speed driving, which is critical for widespread adoption by the general public.

“The National Science Foundation supports small businesses with the most innovative, cutting-edge ideas that have the potential to become great commercial successes and make huge societal impacts,” said Barry Johnson, Director of the NSF’s Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships. “We hope that this seed funding will spark solutions to some of the most important challenges of our time across all areas of science and technology.”

As explained by Peter Howard, CEO of Boston-based Realtime Robotics, “The new technology is a game-changer for autonomous vehicles, which currently look impressive on the freeway, but drive slowly and haltingly in urban environments.  Our technology will make autonomous cars drive like humans—in that they drive at normal speeds and plan for unpredictable behaviors—just much better.  Computer processors don’t get distracted by their phones or drowsy after long hours of driving.”

Once a small business is awarded a Phase I SBIR/STTR grant (up to $225,000), it becomes eligible to apply for a Phase II grant (up to $750,000). Small businesses with Phase II grants are eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales.

NSF accepts Phase I proposals from small businesses twice annually in June and December. Small businesses with innovative science and technology solutions, and commercial potential are encouraged to apply. All proposals submitted to the NSF SBIR/STTR program undergo a rigorous merit-based review process.

To learn more about America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, visit: https://seedfund.nsf.gov/


About Realtime Robotics


DUKE INVENTORS: Daniel Sorin, George Konidaris

Faster than Human Motion in Unstructured Workspaces

Realtime Robotics has developed a specialized processor able to, within microseconds, generate motion plans that adapt to process variation and dynamic work environments. The new special-purpose processor allows robots and autonomous vehicles to react instantly to their surroundings, enabling them to function in unstructured, collaborative workspaces as they react to changes and obstacles within their environment.



Realtime Robotics Vemeo Video

Watch it in action

This specialized processor allows people and robots to work safely together in the same space.  This proprietary hardware generates new motion plans as fast as they are being perceived.  Watch the video and see it in action!


About the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Programs

America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $1.5 million in non-dilutive funds to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $7.8 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

Dr. Howie Levinson shows off his hernia mesh design to President Price. Deep Blue is addressing the unacceptably high rate of hernia occurrence and recurrence. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography

Deep Blue Awarded $295K

Medical device startup Deep Blue Medical Advances has raised $295,000 in a debt round, adding to their $517,000 secured in January.

Deep Blue is a start-up company founded in 2014 by a Duke plastic surgeon, Howard Levinson, MD.

deep blue logo
Dr. Howie Levinson shows off his hernia mesh design to President Price. Deep Blue is addressing the unacceptably high rate of hernia occurrence and recurrence. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography
Dr. Howie Levinson shows off his hernia mesh design to President Price. Deep Blue is addressing the unacceptably high rate of hernia occurrence and recurrence. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography

The company has been advancing a hernia mesh with enhanced anchoring strength to resist wounds from gapping and bursting open, as well as a suture anchoring device to overcome large suture knots associated with wide sutures. In separate efforts, Dr. Levinson is working on additional translational projects including an anti-biofouling Foley catheter, a non-invasive light imaging technology to diagnose skin disorders, and tissue-engineered skin that resists contraction.

“I have worked closely with Duke OLV to protect intellectual property, navigate entrepreneurial activities, and to raise non-dilutive grant funds to advance ideas. Duke OLV’s support has been critical to our success and is a clear distinguishing factor between Duke University and its existing peer institutes.” –Howard Levinson, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery, School of Medicine

Young assistant analyzing substances in tubes

$34 Million in Series D Financing Awarded to PhaseBio

Proceeds will advance clinical development of PB2452, a potentially first-in-class reversal agent for patients on ticagrelor, and PB1046, a novel treatment for PAH


PhaseBio Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of novel therapies for orphan diseases, with an initial focus on cardiopulmonary disorders, today announced the completion of a $34 million Series D financing, including the conversion of existing convertible promissory notes.

New investors in the financing include Cormorant Asset Management, Rock Springs Capital and Mountain Group Partners. Existing investors New Enterprise Associates, Hatteras Venture Partners, AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN), Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc., Syno Capital and Fletcher Spaght Ventures also participated in the financing.

“PhaseBio has the potential to bring life-saving therapies to patients with orphan cardiopulmonary diseases. PB2452 addresses a growing unmet medical need for patients on ticagrelor who are experiencing a major bleeding event or who need urgent surgery,” said Clay B. Thorp, Executive Chairman of PhaseBio and General Partner of Hatteras Venture Partners. “In addition, with PB1046 and future product candidates based on our elastin-like polypeptide (“ELP”) technology, PhaseBio has the potential to build a significant pipeline in the orphan disease space.”

PhaseBio plans to use the proceeds from the Series D financing to advance the clinical development of its lead product candidate PB2452. PB2452 is a potentially first-in-class reversal agent for the antiplatelet drug ticagrelor that is being developed for the treatment of patients on ticagrelor who are experiencing a major bleeding event or who require urgent surgery, and is currently in a Phase 1 proof of concept study. Additionally, the company plans to initiate a Phase 2 clinical study of its ELP-based therapy PB1046 in pulmonary arterial hypertension (“PAH”) in the third quarter of 2018 and to explore additional indications for its half-life extending ELP technology platform.

“We are encouraged by the enthusiasm of our new and existing investors for the potential of our clinical programs and our proprietary ELP technology platform,” said Jonathan P. Mow, Chief Executive Officer of PhaseBio. “We look forward to the readout of data from the Phase 1 study of PB2452, exploring partnership opportunities for our drug products outside of the U.S. and dosing patients in the Phase 2 study of our second product candidate, PB1046, in patients with PAH shortly. In addition, we plan to continue to leverage our ELP technology to expand our development pipeline.”

Just this past February, PhaseBio was awarded a $2.8 million Fast Track Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support the clinical development of PB1046, a first-in-class, sustained-release vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) analogue, in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).

About PhaseBio

PhaseBio Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing therapies for the treatment of orphan diseases. PhaseBio is leveraging its proprietary elastin-like polypeptide (ELP) biopolymer technology platform to develop therapies with the potential for less-frequent dosing and better patient compliance. PhaseBio’s lead development candidate, PB1046, is a first-in-class weekly vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) receptor agonist for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. The company is also developing PB2452, a reversal agent for the antiplatelet therapy ticagrelor. PhaseBio is privately owned, with headquarters and research laboratories in Malvern, PA.

Backside of white woman back pain and ache concept


MANAGEMENT: Barney Koszalka
DUKE INVENTOR: Wolfgang Liedtke

A therapeutics company developing a unique, dual acting inhibitor that targets transient receptor potential (TRP) cation channels TRPV4 and TRPA1.

TRPblue has developed small molecule antagonists that preferentially attenuate signaling of these calcium-permeable channels with proven efficacy in several acute pain and chemical denervation nerve-pain models. These inhibitors have also demonstrated anti-pruritic, anti-fibrotic and anti-inflammatory activity in relevant preclinical models. The team will develop a topically applied, highly tolerated go-to dermatology therapeutic.

TRPblue logo


Severe dermatitis is often treatment-resistant and taxing. When induced by chemo-therapy, it can curtail cancer treatment.


Powerful, systemically-acting immune-modulating drugs are used, e.g., methotrexate and cyclosporine, but are prescribed reactively and are difficult to administer and dose. Thus, they are a late line of therapy.
Skillful sonographer using ultrasound machine at work

MicroElastic Ultrasound Systems

MANAGEMENT: Peter Hollender
DUKE INVENTOR: Peter Hollender

MicroElastic Ultrasound Systems is developing a handheld device that quantifies the elasticity of skin at the touch of a button. This proprietary technology uses ultrasound to locally vibrate tissue and measure the response in order to directly and noninvasively characterize tissue elastic properties.

microelastic_dark logo

Skin elasticity is both important for planning, guiding, and evaluating procedures and treatments in aesthetic dermatology and crucial for tracking and managing life-threatening chronic conditions like Graft-Versus-Host-Disease, yet existing methods are subjective, qualitative, or unreliable, causing the NIH to declare that “there is an urgent need for the development of more quantifiable and reproducible measurements”.

MicroElastic aims for early assessment, active feedback speeds, tailored treatments while reducing discomfort and other complications, reducing costs, and improving outcomes.

MicroElastic is taking its functional prototype into clinical testing and developing its first commercial product via funding from an NIH STTR grant and is negotiating a strategic partnership in the aesthetic space for application to anti-aging procedures. MicroElastic will be seeking funding in 2018 to complete development and regulatory approval as a class II device under the 510(k) pathway.

blood vessels

Humacyte lands $150M from Fresenius Medical Care

This past June, Humacyte, an emerging biotechnology company focusing on technology to grow stable, “off-the-shelf” human tissue replacements exclusively licensed their human acellular vessel, Humacyl, to Fresenius Medical Care.  The investment gives Fresenius 19% fully diluted ownership stake in Humacyte.

humacyte logo

This investment is added to the $75,000 in Series C preferred stock financing secured in March.  Prior to Fresenius, the company had received more than $405 million in total funding to date, with more than $365 million in private investments and awards of up to $40 million through federal and state grants and contracts.

Humacyte was founded by former Duke professor Laura Niklason and includes Duke alums Shannon Dahl and Juliana Blum. A target goal of the company has been to create lifesaving and long-lasting vascular access or replacement for patients with End Stage Renal Disease.

HUMACYL is an investigational product that has not yet been approved by the FDA. However, clinical trials to date suggest that HUMACYL has the potential to become a part of the body’s living tissue. These trials also suggest that HUMACYL may have the potential to last longer with fewer complications than existing synthetic alternatives used for hemodialysis access, possibly lowering healthcare costs by decreasing the number of surgical interventions.

About Humacyte

Humacyte, Inc., a privately held company founded by Dr. Laura E. Niklason, M.D., Ph.D., in 2004, is a medical research, discovery and development company with clinical and pre-clinical stage investigational products. Humacyte is primarily focused on developing and commercializing a proprietary novel technology based on human tissue-based products for key applications in regenerative medicine and vascular surgery. The company uses its innovative, proprietary platform technology to engineer human, extracellular matrix-based tissues that can be shaped into tubes, sheets, or particulate conformations, with properties similar to native tissues. These are being developed for potential use in many specific applications, with the goal to significantly improve treatment outcomes for many patients, including those with vascular disease and those requiring hemodialysis. The company’s proprietary technologies are designed to create off-the-shelf products that, once approved, can be utilized in any patient.

Experimental lab test-tubes with test substance

Grid Therapeutics Signs Exclusive License Agreement

In August 2017, Grid Therapeutics, LLC, an oncology-focused biotechnology company announced the execution of an exclusive license agreement with Duke University to develop the first human-derived antibody as a targeted immunotherapy for cancer. Under the agreement, Grid has acquired the exclusive rights to all intellectual property, including relevant patents, related to Complement Factor H (CFH) antibodies as a cancer therapy, and diagnostics around CFH.

Grid Therapeutics logo
Edward Patz

Grid is based on the innovative science developed by Edward F. Patz, Jr., MD and his team at Duke University. Grid is currently developing its lead candidate for the treatment of solid tumors and plans to begin clinical trials in cancer patients in early 2019.

“We are pleased to sign this exclusive license agreement with Duke to advance this truly innovative science into clinical trials and begin evaluating the therapeutic treatment options for multiple forms of cancer,” said Dr. Paolo Paoletti, on Business Wire.  Dr. Paoletti is a Grid Board member and CEO of GammaDelta Therapeutics. “This agreement allows Grid to rapidly develop a new generation of cancer immunotherapies based on a human-derived antibody that inhibits CFH, a protein that serves to protect cancer cells.” As part of the license agreement, Duke University has become a shareholder in Grid.

This past April, Grid closed on Series B Financing.  They used this money to accelerate and expand the development of their lead therapeutic candidate, GT103, for the treatment of solid tumors, and to prepare for clinical trials starting early next year.

About Grid Therapeutics

Grid Therapeutics is a biotech company based on the innovative platform for discovering and isolating human derived antibodies. Dr Edward F. Patz, Jr, is the co-founder and CEO of Grid, located in Durham, North Carolina. The lead antibody was discovered in exceptional outcome early stage lung cancer patients who did not progress to develop metastasis. The antibody was isolated from patient’s B-cells using state of the art molecular genomic techniques. GT103, the company’s lead asset, will begin a Phase 1 clinical trial in cancer patients with advanced-stage solid tumors.