SC Launch! alumns thrive


By Sheila Watson

FirstString Research, Inc. has come a long way since the biotech company was founded to market a wound-healing process that was created through research at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).

Back then, the company’s premier product dealt with the skin’s wound repair process using a bioengineered peptide developed by Dr. Gautam Ghatnekar. At that time, he was a post-doctoral fellow in the Gourdie Lab at MUSC, and his discovery was instrumental in establishing a new patentable technology platform with applications in regenerative medicine, which in turn led to the formation of FirstString Research in 2005.

After incorporating, the company applied for both U.S. and international patents, and early experiments in vitro and on mice showed encouraging results, which propelled the company into additional animal and human trials to continue to evaluate the technology.

In 2009, the biotech company was the first company in the Charleston area to be brought into the South Carolina Research Authority’s SC Launch! program when it received a $200,000 investment at the Small Business Innovation Summit & Expo at Trident Technical College in North Charleston.

In 2010, the company received patents on its composition of matter claims, effectively giving the company a concrete asset by validating their core technology platform.

Ghatnekar, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Comparative Medicine at MUSC and a member of various prestigious national and international scientific societies, has multiple patents to his name. He currently functions as the company’s president and CEO.

“The support we received from SC Launch! went beyond the equity investment we received from them,” said Ghatnekar said. “SC Launch! brought the right resources to the table. The investment and additional in-state angel support helped us double in size and enabled us to continue growth in South Carolina.”

At its founding, the company focused on the development and commercialization of therapeutics for wound healing, scar reduction and tissue regeneration. Its proprietary therapies modulated intercellular communication to significantly reduce the development of scar tissue and, at the same time, improve the body’s ability to produce healthy, functional cells.

Today, FirstString Research’s mission has grown to its dedication to delivering “breakthrough solutions for inflammation-based medical conditions through an in-depth understanding of the molecular and cellular contexts that define the underlying pathology.”

Its approach effectively “reboots” the normal injury response mechanisms and serves to reduce and calm excessive inflammatory responses, promote normal healing and prevent long-term complications.

Ghatnekar said the company is dedicated to discovering breakthrough therapies for inflammation-based medical conditions.

“We’re focused on developing and bringing to the market new therapeutic products,” he said.

The company’s therapeutic approach focuses on mitigating excessive inflammation, calming the inflamed tissue and rebooting the body’s normal injury response mechanism to allow the healing process to become engaged.

The company’s pipeline of products includes clinical programs with topical gel for chronic ulcers, topical gel for scar reduction and eye drops to be used in corneal injury and surgery. The gel used for ulcers is almost at market stage; the other two are in phase 2 and phase 1, respectively. The preclinical programs include eye drops to treat age-related macular degeneration, a preservation solution for organ preservation and microinjections to be used in glioblastoma cases. Each of the preclinical programs are in stage 1.

FirstString Research’s management team includes individuals with experience in the research, biotechnology and biopharmaceutical sectors, including drug discovery and development. Their range of expertise in the drug discovery and development process has resulted in several FDA-approved breakthrough therapies in oncology and inflammation-based disorders.


A Spirited Enterprise

Terressentia Corporation, one of the South Carolina Research Authority’s SC Launch! portfolio companies headquartered in North Charleston, looks like it was specifically designed for today’s “why wait?” society.

Inventor of the TerrePURE® technology, the distillery specializes in contract production of distilled spirits.

Which means they’ve perfected the process and built a machine that could replicate the effects of aging whisky in a barrel – but in a fraction of the time and with high-quality results. Take the case of bourbon. The typical process of aging the liquor takes seven to 12 years. Terressentia’s process can take very young bourbon and output high-quality spirits in a tiny fraction of the time – day or weeks instead of years.

The unique process also improves the taste of distilled spirits by cleaning the spirits using “ultrasonic energy-driven oxidation.”

In any process of crafting spirits, alcohol is created by converting sugars to ethanol through fermentation. After fermentation, distillation separates the ethanol by evaporation through applying heat. Unfortunately, the distillation process can create impurities through the chemical reactions, which can alter the taste of the beverage.

In traditional methods, distillers remove the impurities through filtration, multiple step distillation or barrel aging – all of which take time and cost money. For instance, four years in new oak barrels is the minimum for bourbon.

The TerrePURE® method removes the impurities in less time and create a smoother and more refined spirit.

The better quality spirits allowed the company to produce private label products for various business and restaurants, such as Pearlz Oyster Bar, High Cotton and Slightly North of Broad in Charleston.

The investment from SC Launch! helped support the expansion of their sales and marketing efforts.