Startups have a fine February

Accelerator-based companies get funding to fight Zika

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Ceres Nanosciences CEO Ross Dunlap. Photo by Mark Rhodes

February was a rewarding month for two startups at the Prince William Science Accelerator.

On Feb. 27, Ceres Nanosciences Inc. announced it had received $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop more effective diagnostic tools to detect the Zika virus and other infectious diseases. “We have a novel technology that we are commercializing to address a number of diagnostic testing needs,” says company CEO Ross Dunlap. 

Dunlap is referring to Nanotrap, a nanoparticle technology that detects markers of disease at extremely low levels from urine samples. The technology also has been used to detect malaria, Ebola, tuberculosis and Lyme disease. Nanotrap was invented at George Mason University and developed under funding from the National Institutes of Health.

But that’s not all. In early February, Ceres Nanosciences also announced it had received $3 million in investment led by Massachusetts-based GreyBird Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund. The funding is part of a larger planned series of investments totaling $9 million. The investment is aimed at accelerating  Ceres’ use of the Nanotrap technology to detect Lyme disease.

Ceres wasn’t alone in receiving funding during February. Caerus Discovery LLC received a $50,000 grant in the middle of the month from the Prince William County Economic Development Opportunity Fund  to work with George Mason’s Biomedical Research Laboratory on an antibody for the Zika virus.

Ceres Nanosciences was founded and spun out of George Mason eight years ago. In 2015, it moved from a lab on campus to the accelerator, which is adjacent to the university’s science and technology campus in Innovation Technology Park.

When Prince William County launched the accelerator in 2014, it created Northern Virginia’s first commercially available public-private wet lab spaces.

The wet lab facility is a plus for Ceres Nanosciences. “It allowed us to stay in Virginia and close to George Mason,” Dunlap says. “We had been looking at Maryland.”

The ties between George Mason and the accelerator are intended to create a synergy for biotech startups. “Prince William sees the university as a fountain of innovation,” says Sean Mallon, the university’s associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation. “They are interested in being part of an ecosystem that allows new companies to be formed, as well as bringing new companies to Prince William.”

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