Envisagenics lands $225K NIH award

Envisagenics founder Maria Luisa Pineda.

Bioinformatics startup Envisagenics has been awarded a $225,000 award from the National Institutes of Health.

The Phase I Small Business Innovation Research Award is the largest capital infusion to date for the LaunchPad Huntington resident, which received $100,000 last month from an Accelerate Long Island seed fund.

The firm, a spinoff from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, will dedicate the $225,000 to the development of SpliceCore, a cloud-based platform for detecting, quantifying and interpreting NGS data – such as RNA sequencing – with the goal of reducing drug-development risks and speeding new pharmaceuticals to market.

Chief Executive Officer Maria Luisa Pineda, who founded Envisagenics with CTO Martin Akerman, said the NIH award comes during “exciting times in the genomics era.”

“We are happy to have the support for the development of Envisagenics technology,” Pineda said in a statement, adding the company’s founders were also emboldened by “the encouragement to commercialize the innovations coming out of academic institutions” and efforts like the NIH Big Data Initiative and the Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative.

Ackerman said he felt “empowered” by the NIH grant, which will help speed SpliceCore onto the cloud.

“This is a crucial step toward a faster platform to extract new knowledge from RNA-sequence data,” the cofounder and CTO said. “SpliceCore will analyze the users’ data and also understand their goals.”

Akerman will be principal investigator on the SBIR-funded project, joined by alternative-splicing bioinformatician Gunnar Rätsch, an associate member of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and an expert in computational methods for big-biomedical-data analysis. Rounding out the investigative team will be CSHL professor Adrian Krainer, known well for his work on the cancer implications of alternative splicing mechanisms.

Earlier this month, Pineda told Innovate LI her company would use its Accelerate/LIETF investment in part to expand its professional staff, hiring a database developer and a bioinformatician – an expert in both computers and biological sciences – to help develop the SpliceCore software package. In addition to Krainer, Envisagenics has also added development team member Adam Geier, the firm’s third full-time employee behind Pineda and Akerman.

The company is still looking to develop a Series A funding round with strategic investors interested on bioinformatics and genomics. Pineda would not say how much the company was looking to raise, but said she was anticipating a “significant” Series A round.

The SBIR grant program encourages applications from small businesses proposing innovative technologies in biomedical computing, informatics and Big Data Science, particularly those supporting rapid progress in in biomedical research.

“Major themes of research,” according to the NIH, include collaborative environments, data integration, analysis and modeling methodologies and “novel computer science and statistical approaches.”