A University of Iowa (UI) spin-out company developing a drug-delivering mechanism to prevent the onset of post-traumatic osteoarthritis recently earned second place—and $25,000—in the 2019 John Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition.

Pappajohn Awards Finalists

CartilaGen, which licensed university intellectual property through the UI Research Foundation (UIRF), focuses on preventative therapies for the onset of osteoarthritis (OA) by developing drug-eluting biomaterials and disease-modifying therapeutics. The UIRF also helped secure U.S. and Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) patents for the technology.

Founded in 2006 by Des Moines entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and philanthropist John Pappajohn, the Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Awards provide financial support to Iowa entrepreneurs and mark the culmination of an annual venture competition among the five John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers around the state, including at the UI. Forty-six small businesses operating within the state of Iowa, including three with UI connections, competed for a total of $100,000 this year.

In addition to CartilaGen, UI companies No Limbits, which creates affordable, custom 3D-printed prosthesis covers, and Firefly Photonics, which develops high performance mid- to long-wave infrared light-emitting diode (LED) and laser technology, each received $2,500 in the competition.

Jaison Marks, who is currently a dual master’s student at UI pursuing degrees in biomedical engineering and finance, co-founded CartilaGen with Frank (Yin) Yu, a former UI graduate student who later pursued a postdoc at Harvard and currently holds an associate professor appointment within the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, a division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The company is founded on research by Mitchell Coleman and James Martin, assistant and associate professors of orthopedics and rehabilitation in the UI Carver College of Medicine. In Martin’s lab, Yu and Marks also worked together on a research team, developing an injectable gel to encourage self-healing of cartilage. Marks and Yu participated in UI Venture School, where they developed a business plan for the product.

Marks said the money will help CartilaGen prepare its Investigational New Drug application (IND) for the Food and Drug Administration, which would pave the way to starting clinical trials.

“We’re very excited to receive this recognition from the premier startup competition within the state of Iowa,” he said. “We are very optimistic about the potential impact of our technology and quite keen to begin initial human testing.”

Pappajohn has invested more than $24 million in the entrepreneurial centers located on college campuses at the UI, Drake University, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and North Iowa Area Community College.

The UI Research Foundation and Division of Sponsored Programs are units of the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research, which provides researchers and scholars with resources, guidance, and inspiration to secure funding, collaborate, innovate, and forge frontiers of discovery that benefit everyone. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover

Photo: Finalists of the 2019 John Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition pose with John Pappjohn (front row, second from right), including (back row, second from left) CartilaGen's Jaison Marks and Frank (Yin) Yu; (front row, third from left) No Limbits founder Erica Cole, and (back row, second from right) Firefly Photonics founder Michael Jones.