Wellness Wednesday – 4/8/20
UML Business Incubator Partnership Focused on Fighting COVID-19
As COVID-19 threatens millions of lives, the research and development at the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) has taken on increased urgency and focus.
A business incubator for biotechnology and medical device companies, M2D2 is a partnership between UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School. Research by two startups at the center hold promise in the fight against the disease. Such research has been designated by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker as among essential operations in the state, allowing the scientists to remain on the job at M2D2’s Lowell location while practicing safety precautions including social distancing.
Biotech company Versatope has been working to develop a universal flu vaccine. The M2D2-based company is now also using its technology to design possible vaccines for COVID-19.
“Pandemics have been a threat throughout history, but this moved so much faster than most people had anticipated,” said Versatope CEO Christopher Locher, who has worked in the infectious disease field for 30 years.
Versatope is pursuing two different tracks for a vaccine. One approach involves replicating a portion of the “spike” protein on the novel coronavirus that latches onto human cells for a vaccine that would create antibodies in humans to block this protein. The company is also designing a vaccine based on the amino acid residues that come in contact with antibodies that could defend against the virus, according to Locher, who is seeking National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to support the first approach and a public-private partnership to back the second.
Another M2D2 company, Nuclease Probe Technologies, is working on a faster testing method for COVID-19, building on its expertise in developing simple tests to detect bloodstream infections such as sepsis.
“Like everyone else, we’re concerned about the coronavirus and we consider this really important work in these times,” said company CEO James McNamara.
Steven Tello, a member of M2D2’s leadership team and UMass Lowell’s vice provost of graduate, online and professional studies, is confident in what these dedicated researchers and scientists can achieve.
“The university’s support of M2D2 for the past decade has helped create an ecosystem that attracts innovative life science startups and researchers, people who are ready to tackle the challenge COVID-19 presents,” Tello said. “We are fortunate to have companies like Versatope and Nuclease Probe already working here. We all look forward to celebrating their successes.”
M2D2 is poised to assist entrepreneurs working to eradicate the novel coronavirus. The business incubator is a member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures (DRIVe) network, run by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to respond to critical public health emergencies. M2D2 is also home to the Center for Advancing Point of Care Technologies (CAPCaT), which assists inventors in developing products and technologies for patients with heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders. The center was established through a $7.9 million grant from the NIH.
Through M2D2, entrepreneurs can gain access to these and other resources for funding to support their innovations.
“People are laser-focused right now and brainstorming hard about how their slice of the health-care or biomedical enterprise could be used to address this very acute crisis that we’re in. It’s amazing how people have come together,” said M2D2 Co-director Nathaniel Hafer, assistant professor of molecular medicine at UMass Medical School in Worcester.
Since its launch in 2007, M2D2 has assisted more than 100 startups across its three sites in Lowell and Worcester and is affiliated with more than 50 other companies around the world. In addition to lab and other research space and assistance in finding funding opportunities, the incubator provides resources for business development, clinical assistance and prototype design.
Community Team Issues Emergency Contact Information
During this health crisis, Community Teamwork, a Lowell-based economic advocacy organization, has put in place emergency programming to ensure that they can continue to provide critical services to clients while maintaining social distancing protocols for the health and safety of their community, clients and staff. While they are closing all of their buildings to walk-in traffic, their staff is available by phone, email and, in extreme circumstances, to meet with clients on an appointment-only basis. Please call one of the numbers below and their staff will work with you to find the right solution for you and your family during this challenging time.
Their Resource Center and Housing Consumer Education Center (HCEC) have canceled all individual meetings, workshops and training until further notice. However, all of their staff will be available via phone and email.
The majority of our emergency services will be completely accessible via phone or email, and they will be using an emergency COVID-19 hotline and general mailbox which will be monitored from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every weekday. All emergency contact information and additional email address information is also available on their website at CommTeam.org.
EMERGENCY CONTACT INFORMATION
Resource Center and HCEC
(for all general emergency referrals)
Fuel Assistance and Heating System Repair
(Please note: As long as the state of emergency is in effect the Department of Public Utilities has extended the moratorium that all utilities must follow the “no shut off” rule.)
(Section 8 & MRVP)
Child and Family Services
Anna Jaques Requests Personal Protection Equipment
Anna Jaques Hospital (AJH) has significant need for personal protection equipment (PPE) as a result of world-wide shortages and prolonged demand during the COVID-19 response.
If you or your business has unopened and unused items on the list below, please email Mary Williamson with brand/model information and the quantity of the items you can donate.
- N95 respirators
- Surgical/procedural masks
- Face shield masks
- Disposable gowns
- Goggles/eye protection
- Bleach wipes
- Non-bleach wipes
- Nitrile gloves
- Hand sanitizer
All donated items will be inspected to ensure that they can safely be used for patient care purposes. The Anna Jaques Community Health Foundation office at 18 Highland Avenue will accept these donations, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (978) 463-1176 with questions or to make other arrangements. Unfortunately, they are unable to accept donations of prepared food for employees at this time.
The AJH team is working to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and keep our communities safe. Please consider supporting their Healthcare Heroes Fund today.