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Small firms receive state start-up grants

BY ZHANRAN ZHAO | JULY 24, 2009 7:15 AM

In a time of over-stretched budgets, Iowa lawmakers have not forgotten small companies in the state dedicated to research and technology.

Last week, J&J Solutions, Inc. and Terpenoid Therapeutics Inc., two companies with ties to UI alumni and faculty members, received $150,000 each in state money to continue their research projects on cancer-related issues.

They were among only five small businesses in the state to receive the grant from the Iowa Demonstration Fund.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver established the $2.5 million fund in 2007 to boost small Iowa businesses in high-growth areas, particularly biosciences and advanced manufacturing, as well as to create new jobs for the state.

“It keeps us moving in the right direction,” said UI alumnus Jared Garfield, who founded J&J Solutions with fellow UI graduate John Slump.

In 2008, Garfield and Slump — then students — won a $5,000 in a regional business competition. A year later, they are working on their first major project, a device for safely handling drugs used in cancer therapy.

Both had family members who suffered from cancer, and the $150,000 they received will go toward making sure others are not exposed to unsafe side effects of chemotherapy.

Aside from covering costs for manufacturing the new device, the grant will cover FDA testing and documentation before the product goes to market. And they are confident about taking it over.

“We hope in three to five years, we will penetrate and command a strong share of the market,” Garfield said.

Terpenoid Therapeutics applied for the grant after learning about it through the UI Research Foundation this year.

“We were all very excited about the grant. It fits in nicely with our grants from other sources,” said Raymond Hohl, a company founder and UI professor of hematology and oncology.

Along with three UI scientists, Hohl established Terpenoid Therapeutics in 2005 to fund research into cures for cancer, osteoporosis, and other diseases.

The most recent grant goes to synthesizing two grams of a new drug to use in clinical trials; the drug, a molecule discovered in Cameroon, is aimed at curing brain cancer.

Hohl said two grams — approximately the weight of two peanuts — matters.

“It’s a small number, but for early testing, it’s a lot,” he said.

Hohl said he hoped at least one of their drugs proves successful.

Though J&J Solutions’ device and Hohl’s new drug have yet to make their débuts, Garfield said eventhe experience of running his own company has been exhilarating.

“There’s definitely a certain joy in being your own boss,” he said.


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