Published November 18, 2016
Two scientific companies started by UB female faculty members were recognized Friday by New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Hochul and State Sen. Tim Kennedy toured the firms’ laboratories on the South Campus and met with the founders as part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a three-year-old international day focused on the economic contributions of women entrepreneurs.
The companies, Cytocybernetics, launched by UB researchers Glenna Bett and Randall Rasmusson, and For-Robin, founded by Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, are part of the economic development initiatives supported by the state and UB.
Cytocybernetics has invented a biotechnology system designed to shorten the time and money needed to bring drugs to market. Protecting the heart from the disruption of electrical activity is a challenge in some drug tests. Cytocybernetics’ system produces an electrical current that can be sent — in real time — through heart cells created from stem cells. The tiny current makes the cells act more like real heart cells, making them more effective for drug testing.
“We have a suite of programs that can mimic different electrical components of the cell. We are able to build a better model of the human heart and better predict if a drug is going to cause arrhythmia,” said Bett, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Bett’s work can help attract more women to scientific research, Hochul said.
“We want to celebrate and give credit to people like you,” she told Bett. “You’re in uncharted territory and also in a male dominated field — in a research science and a STEM field. One of our challenges is to get more young women to follow in your footsteps.”
For-Robin, founded by Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, professor in the Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences, has developed a promising antibody that stops breast cancer tumors from metastasizing to other parts of the body. The antibody also may be used to deliver tumor-killing drugs directly.
Rittenhouse-Olson said the goal is to get her antibody to market as fast as possible to treat breast cancer patients, and that may involve teaming up with a large drug company.
“We are currently in discussions with a couple of Big Pharma companies,” she said.
For-Robin, which is named for Rittenhouse-Olson’s sister who died of breast cancer at age 31, has hired four UB graduates to work in the laboratory.
“Wouldn’t it be great if you got to know that 20 years of your work actually helped a person? And when you help a person with cancer, it’s not just helping the person, which seems like enough, but you know all the family and all the people that love them will appreciate more days with them,” Rittenhouse-Olson said.
“That is the most perfect motivation I have ever heard,” Hochul responded. “You are honoring Robin’s name so perfectly.”
Both companies are part of START-UP NY, an economic development program created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that allows universities to identify spaces and facilities where new and expanding businesses can operate for 10 years without paying state, business, corporate, income, sales or property taxes or franchise fees.
Following the laboratory tours, Hochul said the efforts by the university and the state are showing results.
“Buffalo is becoming a destination for startup businesses already,” she said, noting that there are 72 companies in the START-UP NY program through their affiliation with UB.
“This is a great example of how the governor’s strategic investments are paying off,” Hochul said. “Both the things that these entrepreneurs are doing will be saving people’s lives.”