Platelet BioGenesis co-founders Jonathan Thon, Joseph Italiano and SvenErik Karlsson have developed a way to produce human platelets in a lab using a microfluidic-based bioreactor.
Platelet BioGenesis, a spinout of Harvard University that is developing a radical new technology to make human platelets on demand, has moved into the VDC to accommodate its quickly expanding team. They will occupy a newly constructed laboratory. (See UMass Venture Development Center gets grant to expand.)
Idea born while working on PhD in British Columbia
Co-founder Jonathan Thon first came up with the idea to manufacture human platelets while working on his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of British Columbia. “At an early stage in my research, it became obvious that we had to move away from the existing donor-based system by finding a way to produce platelets on demand,” Thon says. “The current system is limited by sterility concerns, storage constraints, and, perhaps most notably, a dearth of volunteer donors.”
Bioreactor developed at Harvard while postdoc fellow
After completing his PhD, Thon joined Dr. Joseph Italiano at Harvard Medical School for a research fellowship. The pair developed a bioreactor that triggers platelet production by mimicking the physiological characteristics of bone marrow. SvenErik joined the team a few years later to co-found the company and bring the technology to market. “Founding our own company was the best vehicle to do so,” Thon says.
I considered starting Platelet BioGenesis in Canada, but knew Boston provided many more opportunities. Jonathan Thon.
He considered starting Platelet BioGenesis in Canada, but he knew Boston provided many more opportunities. “The city is perhaps the single greatest hub for biotech investment in the world,” Thon says.
NIH awards grants after VDC support
Jonathan had heard about the VDC in 2014 while participating in MassCONNECT (run by MassBio) and asked for the VDC’s support when it applied for funding from the NIH SBIR Program. The VDC committed to provide laboratory space, and access to a mouse facility as well as specialized microscopes in the university’s new Integrated Science Center. In October 2015 Dr. Jill Macoska, head of UMass Boston’s Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy, shepherded the animal study protocol approval through UMass Boston’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The NIH finally announced a direct to Phase II SBIR $1.5M award in early 2016.
Mass Life Science Center pivotal
Platelet BioGenesis is on a roll, with Jonathan at the helm, adeptly leveraging support from many organizations in Boston, most notably, the Massachusetts Life Science Center. The center funded the VDC’s laboratory expansion; supported the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy; and awarded a milestone achievement grant to Platelet while it waited for NIH funding. Also, the center supported LabCentral, where a Platelet scientist has been using a small bay. Now, the company is poised to achieve the production of human platelets – something once considered impossible.
The Venture Development Center opened in 2009 with one simple goal in mind: to make it easier for exceptional entrepreneurial teams with important ideas – no matter what university they attended – to take the strategic step from their university setting to a more commercial environment where they can obtain the data required to secure investment, launch their companies and grow. Today, we are proud to be launching some of the best startup companies anywhere, and to be stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Massachusetts.