Glenna Bett, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University at Buffalo since 2011, came to UB to focus her research on ion channels. What she has accomplished in a small lab on the south campus is improving the way and speed in which drugs make it to the marketplace.
Her biotech spin-off company is called Cytocybernetics, a contract research organization that uses her novel Cybercyte technology to change the FDA-mandated drug safety screening process.
Start-Up Grind stated it best: “The Cybercyte technology is a significant advance in the drug development pathway, with the promise to reduce the likelihood of novel drugs having serious cardiac side effects, while reducing the cost of bringing new drugs to market.” (11/29/16)
Being a female biomedical entrepreneur sounds glamorous, but Dr. Bett will be the first to tell you that it’s work, work, and more work, every single day. She is one of 10 employees at Cytocybernetics who work tirelessly on the “simple plug and play dynamic clamp system, which works with existing voltage clamp systems” to differentiate between types of muscle cells in the heart that respond differently to stimuli, thereby helping them determine if a drug will affect the heart.
Her work is amazing in and of itself—not to mention that she is also deputy director of the Institute for Education and Research on Women and Gender; vice chair for Research, Obstetrics, and Gynecology; associate director of the Center for Cellular and Systems Electrophysiology; president of the Buffalo Niagara Region of the American Heart Association; and associate director of SURE, a summer undergraduate research experience at UB for select students who want pursue a doctorate. This, of course, is not an exhaustive list of Dr. Bett’s roles.
As for starting Cytocybernetics, Dr. Bett is grateful for the mentoring she received early on through the Women’s Business Center at Canisius College. “They were excellent at teaching me how to pitch a business plan,” she said. “I didn’t win the prize, but I met other women who were experiencing the same issues I was in starting a company. They were from various industries, yet we all shared similar struggles.” Dr. Bett said she benefitted from having to set measurable goals each month with a group of peers.
Of course, it takes a lot of funding to develop and commercialize a product; the Cybercyte has been supported in part by National Institutes of Health technology transfer awards, a SUNY TAF Award, UBCAT awards, and 43North.
“The first time we submitted a pitch to 43North,” she said, “we did not win money.” But she says they did gain valuable feedback about how to communicate their ideas for their product to the business community. They took the feedback to heart, revised their business plan, developed a more sound pitch, and in 2015, won the $500,000 prize.
According to a news release from UB, “Cytocybernetics has received support from UB’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach, participated in the Pre-Seed Workshop hosted by UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and received funding from the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology.”
This prestigious, $1.5-million phase II grant “goes a long way toward validation,” said Dr. Bett. “It validates the superiority of our approach.” When asked how she felt when she received news of the grant award, she said she was surprised that she didn’t feel like dancing. “I just felt relief,” she said. “We worked so hard. We continue to work hard every day. Now we are able to increase the speed of drug safety. We’re in a great place.”
Dr. Bett believes Buffalo is a wonderful place for aspiring entrepreneurs to begin. “The landscape is favorable,” she said. “Buffalo is a great location, and UB is a wonderful resource.” She is thrilled that her company is able to offer internships to UB students and that the area offers an incredible pool of talented people as employees.
“Starting a company is immense hard work,” she cautioned, “but it is definitely worth it!”
As for Cytocybernetics, Dr. Bett doesn’t see developing Cybercyte as the end. “We are pursuing other technologies,” she said, “and are looking to broaden the scope of our company.” They have two patents pending and are seeking additional patents.