Three UNMC startups selected for Invest Midwest


Dong Wang, PhD

OMAHA, Nebraska (April 27, 2021)—Three Nebraska startup companies formed on the back of innovations developed at the University of Nebraska Medical Center were among a select group of presentations at the most recent Invest Midwest Venture Capital Forum.

The virtual conference spanned two days in late April, and featured more than 40 startup companies based on university technologies.

The goal of the forum was to help early-stage companies attract additional investment and support for further research and development of their products, particularly for university-based innovations.

The Nebraska startups selected to participate in the event were Ensign Pharmaceuticals, Global Laparoscopic Solutions and Intuitool.

Ensign Pharmaceuticals is a startup created by inventor and UNMC chemist Dong Wang, Ph.D., who developed a drug delivery platform called ProGel.

A liquid at lower temperatures, ProGel transforms into a gel-like substance as it reaches body temperature. As a result, the gel is then more likely to linger in the affected area, concentrating the pharmaceutical payload exactly where it needs to be.

Ensign Pharmaceutical’s initial product is a novel therapeutic prodrug for the most common cause of disability in the adult population: osteoarthritis pain.

The prodrug incorporates a potent steroid, dexamethasone, into the formulation. While effective for pain relief, the benefit of dexamethasone is unfortunately short-lived, usually lasting only a few days. However, when formulated with ProGel, dexamethasone has the potential to remain active much longer, potentially providing relief for months.

In addition to providing a more sustained and stable local release of medication, the hydrogel also has the benefit of limiting potential harmful side effects, including weight gain, increased blood sugar, insomnia and osteoporosis.

This device under development at Global Laparoscopic Solutions could make minimally invasive procedures more accessible and affordable throughout the world.

This device under development at Global Laparoscopic Solutions could make minimally invasive procedures more accessible and affordable throughout the world.

Any number of pharmaceuticals can combine with ProGel for localized and sustained delivery of a variety of therapeutic agents. For example, ProGel could help treat other musculoskeletal disorders such as chronic back pain, tendonitis, bursitis, fracture repair, spinal fusion, and periodontal bone regeneration. It may also serve as a depot for sustained drug delivery in a broad spectrum of disorders, including hormone therapy for high-risk pregnancy, and localized chemotherapy.

Global Laparoscopic Solutions is a startup company based on innovations from UNMC surgeon Chandra Are, MD.

The technology at GLS is an elegant solution to the lack of laparoscopic surgical options throughout the world. Essentially, the device transforms any standard operating room into a minimally invasive surgical suite. While providing access to the furthest corners of the globe, the innovation also simplifies minimally invasive procedures, and at more affordable prices.

Intuitool is also built on a laparoscopic surgical solution. It features an ergonomic design that enables better performance from the surgeons who wield it.

Pictured is an early prototype of the Intuitool.

An early prototype of the Intuitool.

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