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Santa Fe tech firm in running for startup honors

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Santa Fe-based company marketing technology to rapidly test for bacterial lung infections is headed to Washington, D.C. after winning a spot on an elite national listing of top university startups.

Avisa Pharma Inc., which licensed its breath-test technology from the University of New Mexico, is one of 35 companies nationwide that will earn the title of Best University Startups for 2016, compiled by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer, or NCET2. A total of 200 startups are competing, and Avisa is one of 18 included in the first round of winners who will present their technologies to potential investors and Fortune 500 representatives at a University Startups Demo Day on September 20 in the U.S. capitol.

A second round of 17 startups will be announced next week, and five more UNM startups are on the short list of 80 companies still in the running to win a spot at Demo Day. That’s more than any other university nationwide, said Lisa Kuuttila, UNM’s chief economic development officer and head of the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech transfer office.

“It’s great validation of our efforts to support startups working to commercialize UNM technology,” Kuuttila said. “It shows that our technologies and the companies licensing them are capable of attracting the attention of some of the world’s largest corporations.”

The finalists in this year’s competition are being selected by a committee of 25 Fortune 500 corporate representatives. The 35 startup winners will each receive a six-minute slot to present to Global 1000 and Fortune 500 companies, venture capitalists, and angel investors. They will also show their technologies to congressional representatives and officials during a trade show in Congress, said NCET2 associate director Ria Ancheta.

“They’ll get to show major corporations what they’re doing,” Ancheta said. “That’s good for universities and startups around the country, because these corporate representatives usually wouldn’t go searching for technologies outside of hubs in places like California or Boston. It’s also a way to show Congress how universities are spending research and development money to create new, cutting-edge technologies and jobs.”

For Avisa Pharma, it could generate more corporate and investor interest in its breath-test technology, said President and CEO David Joseph, who launched the company in 2010.

The technology, which can rapidly measure bacteria in the lungs to determine if a patient has an infection such as tuberculosis, was originally developed by Graham Timmins, a UNM professor of medical chemistry and toxicology, and Vojo Deretic, chair of the Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Department.

The company is now focusing on potential use of its technology in emergency rooms and intensive care units to rapidly determine if patients have bacterial pneumonia, and to monitor whether antibiotics are working.

“This is recognition that we have novel technology,” Joseph said.

The company has raised about $8 million in private equity to date. It expects to begin raising a larger $15 million round of funding this fall.

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