M2D2 chosen to help startups develop cures for pandemic flu, sepsis

Female student works in lab
The federal government has named the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center, a partnership between the UMass Lowell and Worcester campuses, to a new, national network of business accelerators dedicated to developing solutions to the nation's most critical health threats.


Contact: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – The federal agency tasked with solving critical health threats to Americans has chosen the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) as one of only eight business incubators in the nation to help startups develop means of eradicating influenza and sepsis.

An estimated 35.6 million cases of the flu are reported and claim the lives of 56,000 people each year and sepsis results in 250,000 deaths annually, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

M2D2 – a collaboration of the UMass Lowell and Worcester campuses that helps biotech and medical-device startups bridge the gap between idea and market – is the only New England business incubator selected by BARDA’s new Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures for its national DRIVe Network. The partnership between the DRIVe program and M2D2 will help entrepreneurs find solutions to public-health emergencies – everything from flu pandemics to biological attacks and nuclear incidents. 

Over the next five years, M2D2 will receive $500,000 from BARDA to assist startups at its incubators in Lowell and Worcester, which provide access to world-class research expertise and facilities. 

“Accelerators are part of a new business-friendly approach,” U.S. Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services Eric Hargan said at the launch of the DRIVe program. “This approach will help startups and other businesses shape the next generation of lifesaving technology and transform health security. That innovation is crucial to protecting Americans.” 

“Receiving this five-year grant and partnering with BARDA on this new national initiative will allow us to further assist startups already working with us to respond to these challenges, as well reach out to more entrepreneurs interested in joining M2D2. It’s exciting our incubator program and UMass Lowell as a whole will have an impact on national health security over the next five years and beyond,” said M2D2 Founder and Director Stephen McCarthy, chairman of UMass Lowell’s Biomedical Engineering Department. “We are looking forward to working with BARDA’s DRIVe team to scout for and advance novel health security innovations.” 

Two startups already working with M2D2 in Lowell to combat the flu and cure sepsis – Versatope Therapeutics and ExThera Medical Corp. – plan to join the new network.

Versatope Therapeutics is developing a universal vaccine that would combat various types of influenza. The company is headquartered at M2D2’s incubator at UMass Lowell. 

“Pandemic preparedness is a high priority for both government and non-government agencies. Our work to develop an influenza vaccine capable of protecting against most strains of the virus remains our primary effort in the lab,” said Versatope CEO and Founder Christopher Locher. “M2D2 allows us to develop our biotechnology and leverage our Massachusetts location alongside leading biotech research and academic institutions, especially UMass Lowell, even more now as an inaugural member of the DRIVe Network.” 

ExThera Medical Corp. – led by a UMass Lowell graduate – is working on a new sepsis cure and said it would partner with M2D2 on the DRIVe initiative immediately after the network was announced. The company has developed “Seraph,” a novel filter that removes bacteria and viruses from whole blood.  

“The successful completion of our European clinical trial this month represents an exciting step forward in our effort to make a device-based treatment available for bloodstream infections,” said Bob Ward, ExThera Medical’s CEO, who graduated from UMass Lowell with a degree in chemical engineering. “With the lack of effective antibiotics for many infections and limited new anti-infective drugs in development, there is a growing need for new approaches for quick treatment of bloodstream infections, which often progress to deadly sepsis and multi-organ failure.”  

Other business accelerators named to the DRIVe Network are located in California, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. The DRIVe program is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. More information about the initiative is available at www.drive.hhs.gov.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu