COI’s 2017 Year in Review; Hello 2018

2017: Healthy and Growing Team

Looking back over the last twelve months we are grateful to the entire COI community for their dedication to developing impactful innovations for human health.  Each year we strive to create a healthy environment for our employees and give back to our supporters throughout the San Diego region.  This year we sponsored a local March for Science event, cycled in Padres Pedal the Cause and played a round of golf for Biocom.  Read more about our community events here and stay tuned for more fun in 2018.

This year we welcomed two new CEOs to COI’s leadership: Brooke LeVasseur at AristaMD and Laura Shawver, Ph.D. at Synthorx.

When asked about her decision to join Synthorx, Dr. Shawver told Endpoints News:


“It’s not very often that one gets to participate in something that is potentially game-changing for therapeutics and likely will — this platform technology will be utilized for years to come.”

Read more in Endpoints about Dr. Shawver’s past achievements in drug development and her future plans for Synthorx.

LeVasseur takes the reigns of AristaMD as the company ramps up its growth efforts and expands its customer base.  AristaMD’s telehealth solution helps patients obtain access to high-quality specialist care. The Company’s Smart Care Platform helps payers and providers reduce specialty-referral costs and improve patient care, while reducing hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

“This is a critical time for our healthcare system, as many patients struggle to access the care they need to live healthy and productive lives,” LeVasseur said. “Telehealth is the key to bridging this access gap, and we look forward to continuing to partner with payers and providers to address this important issue,” said LeVasseur.

More information on LeVasseur’s appointment and a recap of recent partnerships can be read at the San Diego Business Journal and this COI blog.

Looking Back to COI’s Beginnings

Throughout the past year, COI president and CEO, Jay Lichter, Ph.D., discussed the COI model with several news outlets.

“We start with a clever new drug target, which usually comes from academia but not always. Then the way COI is set up with shared resources, company creation becomes very rapid. The company can be incorporated in a couple of days and staffed in about a week. With COI’s established buying power and available capital equipment, from the time we say ‘ok, let’s go’ to actually doing experiments is quite short.”

Listen to learn more about COI’s origin story and the benefits of this model at BioReport with Danny Levine.

Key Scientific and Clinical Advancements

Avelas Biosciences

2017 was a year of clinical advances for Avelas Biosciences.  Results from the Phase 1b clinical study evaluating the company’s lead candidate, AVB-620, demonstrated that intraoperative imaging of surgical specimens after infusion with AVB-620 allowed for tumor detection. In addition, Avelas initiated a Phase 2 study of AVB-620 in women with primary, nonrecurrent breast cancer undergoing surgery. 

Avelas CEO, Carmine Stengone, said, “This trial will allow us to confirm the findings from our Phase 1b trial, which demonstrated that AVB-620 could generate fluorescent signals that can distinguish breast cancer from adjacent tissues. We look forward to bringing this essential information to surgeons while they are still in the operating room.”


Floyd Romesberg, Ph.D., a co-founder of Synthorx, has used an expanded genetic alphabet in a semi-synthetic organism to incorporate various non-natural amino acids into a full-length protein. This research breaks through technical barriers to creating more diverse proteins for improved drug characteristics as well as enabling cost-effective scale-up for drug development.

“We wanted to prove the concept that every step of information storage and retrieval could be mediated by an unnatural base pair,” Dr. Romesberg told MIT Technology Review. “It’s not a curiosity anymore.”

More coverage of this exciting advancement can be found on BBC and NPR.

Predicting the Future  

As many news outlets reported, 2016 seemed to be a lack-luster year for biotech. Early last year Dr. Lichter was asked by WSJ Pro Venture Capital and San Diego Business Journal for his outlook on 2017. His response was optimistic.

“The market is really strong, and I think ‘17 is going to be a good year,” Dr. Lichter told WSJ Pro Venture Capital. “There’s a lot of money in the system.”

His prediction came to fruition as 2017 saw a new VC funding record of $7.3 billion and $9.3 billion raised in 471 biotechnology deals, according to Endpoints News.

Commenting on predictions for 2018, Dr. Lichter told Endpoints,“I think that investing will remain robust. There is a lot of capital in the system with some big wins/acquisitions and several IPOs that provided liquidity for VCs and their investors. I expect the markets to remain ‘open’ and hot while at times choppy.”

Based on Dr. Lichter’s prediction, it may mean the time is right for entrepreneurs to snag some funding in 2018. To make the most of your time and elevate your chances for success, see what three San Diego VCs wish entrepreneurs knew when raising money.

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