Published May 21, 2020

Research News

UB spinoff Ferric Contrast wins $750,000 in federal R&D funding

Portrait of Chemistry Professor, Janet Morrow and Bradford La Salle of startup company Ferric Contrast in the Natural Sciences Complex.

UB faculty member Janet Morrow and Bradford La Salle launched Ferric Contrast Inc. to commercialize research from Morrow's lab. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published May 21, 2020

“Iron is regulated, recycled and stored in humans, making it more likely that the body can handle any accumulated iron. ”
Janet Morrow, UB Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and chief scientific officer
Ferric Contrast

UB spinoff Ferric Contrast Inc. has received $750,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop iron-based contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Contrast agents are substances that are used in the body to help obtain better quality of images of organs, tumors and other biological structures.

The compounds that Ferric Contrast is developing could offer an alternative to the gadolinium complexes that have traditionally been employed in MRI. Recent studies have found that gadolinium can accumulate in patients’ brains and other organs, raising safety concerns.

“Since we started the company in 2017, concerns in medicine have only increased over the gadolinium-based MRI contrast agents available today,” says Bradford La Salle, co-founder and president of Ferric Contrast. “Doctors and patients want new options.”

Ferric Contrast was launched by LaSalle and UB chemistry professor Janet Morrow to commercialize research from Morrow’s lab. The company licenses technology from UB and is based at the UB Technology Incubator in Amherst.

The new funding is a Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) award from the NSF. The funding will enable Ferric Contrast to further improve the chemical properties of its iron-based contrast agents, and to scale up production of the compounds in preparation for toxicity studies.

As Morrow explains, iron-based contrast agents are of interest because iron — unlike gadolinium — is found naturally in the human body.  

“Iron is regulated, recycled and stored in humans, making it more likely that the body can handle any accumulated iron,” says Morrow, UB Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, who serves as Ferric Contrast’s chief scientific officer. “We have developed iron complexes that are highly soluble and stabilized in the trivalent high-spin form. Our agents are extremely robust and can be easily modified to change their biodistribution and clearance rates in animals.”

Ferric Contrast and Morrow's lab have received research and development funding through the SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund (TAF); the Innovation Hub, which is run by UB and funded by New York State; and UB’s Bruce Holm Memorial Catalyst Fund. UB has also supported Ferric Contrast by assisting the company with the STTR and other funding proposals.

Ferric Contrast was featured last year at the University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase, hosted by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Universities (AAU) on Capitol Hill.