WMU commercialization center invests in nervous system breakthrough

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Photo of a spinal cord injury.

Revolutionary treatment for debilitating nervous system injuries

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center has invested $250,000 in a Kalamazoo company that is doing early-stage work on a revolutionary approach to treat and restore function to people who have suffered major damage to their peripheral or central nervous systems.

The BRCC award to Axonia Medical is part of $2 million in seed financing the company recently assembled to advance technology its founders believe can transform medical care for people who suffer a debilitating nervous system injury. Such injuries include spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, peripheral nerve injury and stroke. Other investors providing seed funding include the Southwest Michigan First Life Science Venture Fund and Ann Arbor SPARK.

"The technology Axonia is developing is precisely the kind of innovative, early-stage work our center is designed to support," says Stephen J. Haakenson, executive director of the BRCC. "This is technology developed in a university setting that has great potential in the marketplace to address unmet medical needs."

Axonia, located in Kalamazoo, is a startup that is leveraging groundbreaking discoveries on nervous system growth and repair by Dr. Douglas H. Smith at the University of Pennsylvania. Smith is scientific co-founder of Axonia with Dr. Harry Ledebur, president and CEO.

The company's products are expected to bridge lost nervous tissues and jump-start regenerative mechanisms that will allow levels of functional recovery not now possible. The company was an early participant in a Penn program called UPstart that focuses on the transfer of technology from higher education to the commercial arena.

Established in 2003 with an initial cash infusion of $10 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., WMU's BRCC is designed to promote development of life science startups in Michigan. It has played a critical role in the creation of 30 Michigan companies and more than 200 high-paying jobs. With every dollar of the original $10 million invested in startup companies, a new award of $3.8 million in 2011 allowed the center to transition to a new fund, dubbed by BRCC organizers as BRCC-II.

The funds were provided by the 21st Century Jobs Fund, a Michigan Strategic Fund program designed to accelerate the growth and diversification of Michigan's economy. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a public-private partnership between the state and local communities, provides administrative support for the 21st Century Jobs Fund. The MEDC markets Michigan and provides the tools and environment to drive job creation and investment. For more information on the 21st Century Jobs Fund initiative, visit MichiganAdvantage.org.