UMSL students create biotech startup business

UMSL researchers Jason Atkins (left) and Mohit Patel are racking up awards and grants for their work in developing new technology to transfer DNA into cells. (Photo by August Jennewein)

What began as a research project for University of Missouri–St. Louis doctoral students Mohit Patel and Jason Atkins grew into a passion, and eventually evolved into a business venture.

The duo, who earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UMSL, met as research associates working in the laboratory of George Gokel, director of the Center for Nanoscience at UMSL. Along with Gokel, the students invented a new technology to transfer DNA into cells. The development is an inexpensive and nontoxic method to help DNA cross the cell membrane so that cells can be modified.

“The company was formed after we realized the commercial potential of the technology we had invented in Dr. Gokel’s laboratory,” Patel says.

In 2012, Patel, Atkins and Gokel founded a biotechnology startup company called Genetix Fusion, which provides superior, nontoxic transfection kits for pharmaceutical and academic researchers. It’s the first startup established by UMSL students to commercialize a University of Missouri–St. Louis technology.

This year the pair increased their profile with a slew of awards and grants. In April, they were inducted as honorary members of the UMSL chapter of the National Academy of Inventors and were presented the UMSL Student Inventor of the Year Award, which carried a $500 prize.

Along with Gokel they shared in a $50,000 grant through the University of Missouri System’s Fast Track Funding program to conduct research and develop their products for commercialization. In May, they won a global business planning competition called Arch Grants, which brought $50,000 in funding for their startup company. Patel also ranked among the St. Louis Business Journal’s 2013 class of “30 Under 30” future business leaders.

“The grants and awards that we have received provide us validation for our idea and the progress we have made,” Patel says. “It also motivates us to work harder and develop superior products.”

Patel says the company hopes to launch its first product, the Janus Transformation Kit™, in early 2014. It will enable scientists to deliver DNA/RNA into cells with greater efficiency and less expense.

 

This story was published in the fall 2013 issue of UMSL Magazine.

 

Eleven other researchers were honored at UMSL’s annual Research and Innovation Week reception:

  • Matthew Hile, UMSL Senior Investigator of the Year Award
  • Xuemin Wang, UMSL Senior Faculty Inventor of the Year Award
  • April Regester, UMSL Junior Faculty Inventor of the Year Award
  • Edward Jarka and Michael Howe, $42,000, UM System FastTrack Funding program for “A hand-held Meibomian gland warmer and expressor”
  • Michael Nichols and Alexei Demchenko, $39,900, UM System FastTrack Funding program for “Development and testing of an Endotoxin antagonist compound”
  • Joan Brennan, Matthew MacEwan and Steven Mestemacher, honorary inventor inductees, National Academy of Inventors, UMSL chapter
  • Joseph O’Sullivan, inventor inductee, National Academy of Inventors, UMSL chapter

Media coverage:
St. Louis Business Journal
Phys.Org
R & D Magazine
KMOX (1120 AM)
KSDK (Channel 5)


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