Startup grown from UNL research wins NSF grant

20111006dimagno2.jpg

Craig Chandler | University Communications
A startup company co-founded by UNL's Stephen DiMagno has received a $726,000 National Science Foundation grant.

Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals Inc., a startup company that grew from technology developed at UNL, has won a $726,000 National Science Foundation grant to expand its research and product development.

The Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant will fund further research and production of a positron emission tomography, or PET, agent that can be used to diagnose and manage brain tumors and potentially to diagnose many other common diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and many forms of cancer.

Ground Fluor is harnessing novel, efficient chemistry developed at UNL to produce high-purity agents used in PET scans. A common nuclear medicine imaging technique used for diagnosing and detecting certain diseases, PET relies on radiotracers to give information about the function and metabolism in the body's organs.

Through his basic research at UNL, chemistry professor Stephen DiMagno developed a technique to attach the radioactive isotope fluorine-18 to different carrier molecules. The isotope enables a PET scanner to detect a compound's metabolic fate.

In 2012, DiMagno co-founded Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals with help from NUtech Ventures Inc., UNL's technology commercialization affiliate. Ground Fluor holds an exclusive worldwide license for the novel chemistry.

"(Ground Fluor) was formed to translate and commercialize new tools for molecular imaging and therapy. It is gratifying to see these products progress toward the market," DiMagno said. "We are very excited about the potential of our agents and technology to assist physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of serious diseases."

In addition to developing new imaging agents, the company also partners with other companies to better manufacture imaging agents for nuclear medicine. Kiel Neumann, Ground Fluor's associate director for research and development, and a UNL graduate, is leading the SBIR Phase II grant.

"The grant is another big win for Ground Fluor," said Brad Roth, executive director of NUtech Ventures. "This is a wonderful example of what happens when we get UNL's research discoveries into the hands of entrepreneurs who build innovative new companies and develop potentially life-changing products."

The company was formed after DiMagno received an NSF Innovation Corps grant in late 2011. The NSF I-Corps grants are designed to help commercialize promising NSF-funded research. In 2013, the company won a $150,000 NSF Phase I SBIR grant, which was matched by a $97,500 grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals' research and development facility is in Lincoln. Business offices are in Lincoln and Cambridge, Mass.

Ground Fluor Pharmaceuticals Inc. is a biomedical company developing new imaging agents for use in diagnosis and management of disease, and to help other companies better manufacture imaging agents for PET scans. For more information, go to http://www.gfpharma.com.

NUtech Ventures is a nonprofit affiliate of the University of Nebraska established to form innovative partnerships between academia and the private sector. For more information, go to http://www.nutechventures.org.

Published: