Startup accelerator initiative aims to boost biotherapy in Arkansas

Another startup accelerator initiative is popping up in Arkansas — this one crafted to nurture biotherapy companies ready to develop innovative medicines to combat life-threatening illnesses.

Beyond crafting an accelerator program, Bentonville-based SymBiosis Capital Management and its Arkansas health care partners aim to establish an ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas to incubate startups that can expand health care options for Arkansans.

The initial accelerator is set up to lure biotherapeutic companies that will be in the clinical-trial state within 12 months and can collaborate with hospitals to test and produce products that can be brought to market faster.

Biotherapeutic companies develop and prepare biological medicines that use genetically engineered bacteria, yeast, fungi, cells or whole animals and plants. The sector is among the fastest-growing segments in the pharmaceutical industry and accounts for about half of new drug approvals, and the products have been effective in treating conditions that include cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis among others.

The accelerator program, called BioAR Trial, is designed for companies in late pre-clinical stages of development. Ultimately, the goal is to increase the access Arkansans have to innovative and cutting-edge medical care in the state.

SymBiosis is partnering with HealthTech Arkansas and seven hospitals: Arkansas Children’s Research Institute, Arkansas Heart Hospital, Baptist Health, CHI St. Vincent, Highlands Oncology Group, St. Bernards Healthcare and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

“We are interested in companies that develop advanced medicines and we would like to invest in companies that are located here,” said Jahan Ali, vice president of business development for SymBiosis. “We are taking a long approach to this and we are hoping to introduce these companies to the region.” SymBiosis has scientific and key support capabilities including financial resources and a background working to grow and develop biotherapeutic companies. The hospitals will help select participants who meet their clinical needs and will provide labs and other clinical infrastructure to support trials, including access to patients.

International companies in various stages of pretrial clinic development are encouraged to apply to the BioAR Trial accelerator, which is scheduled to host its first cohort of five companies in April. Clinical trials are expected to begin later in the summer. The application process is open until Jan. 15.

Ali declined to identify the regional investors who are behind the effort, which will focus on deploying advanced and emerging therapeutic medicines, biologics, cell therapies and genetic medicines to treat life-threatening diseases related to oncology, immune disorders and cardio-metabolic disorders.

BioAR Trial will have a selection committee that includes representatives from partner health systems and clinical trials sites.

SymBiosis manages a portfolio of more than 30 investments that include eGenesis, which offers transplant applications to alleviate organ shortages; Metagenomi, which focuses on gene-editing systems; and Recursion, a digital biology company.

HealthTech Arkansas works with health care providers to spark innovation through accelerator initiatives and programming.