Nakia Melecio to lead Innovation Lab effort at Enterprise Innovation Institute

Headshot off Nakia Melecio.
Nakia Melecio head’s Innovation Lab at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. (PHOTO: Péralte Paul)

Nakia Melecio, senior research faculty and director of the Center for MedTech Excellence at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, will lead a new effort focused on economic development support for life science companies and bioscience commercialization and ecosystem building.

Melecio, who has also served as the deep tech catalyst in the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s ATDC startup incubator, will lead Innovation Lab, which encompasses new business development efforts in the life sciences and biosciences sectors. It will also include his current program work and the Innovation Lab initiative centers on three core activities:

  • Grow healthcare research, innovation, and workforce development practice
  • Expand EI2 Global’s international footprint
  • Support VentureLab’s National Science Foundation I-Corps activities

“Nakia has been instrumental in helping to expand Georgia’s life sciences community and ecosystem,” said David Bridges, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, which serves as Georgia Tech’s chief economic development arm. “Leading Innovation Lab already builds on a foundation he created since joining us in 2019 and further supports our broad economic development mission.”

He’s already leading in the healthcare research practice expansion with his work in with the MedTech Center and running the ScaleUp Lab Program for deep tech innovation.

Under Melecio’s leadership as founding director, the MedTech Center, which has the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Global Center for Medical Innovation as partners, has worked with and evaluated the innovations of more than 200 companies. Since launching in 2021, the MedTech Center’s 66 active startups have raised $13.1 million in investment capital and an additional $6.4 million in federal, non-dilutive funding grants.

In 2023 the MedTech Center was selected to join the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health’s ARPA-H Investor Catalyst Hub to accelerate the commercialization of practical, accessible biomedical solutions.

He is supporting Georgia Tech’s efforts to collaborate with Atlanta University Center schools — Spelman College, Clark-Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine — to collaborate with those minority serving institutions as they build out capacity for their scientists and researchers to create more life sciences technology companies, following an award from the Economic Development Administration.

Similarly, Melecio is working with the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a collaborative project in the biologics and medical device areas to move more of its researchers’ innovations out of the lab and into commercial markets.

As Innovation Lab lead, Melecio, who has secured more than $5.76 million in federal grants and awards to Georgia Tech, will also work to develop biomanufacturing partnerships for Georgia Tech.

With EI2 Global, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s program that fosters economic opportunity through collaborations with universities, innovators, governments, and nonprofit organizations worldwide, Melecio will serve as an instructor on Lab-to-Market and CREATE-X programming for entrepreneurs. He will also create and provide educational content for EI2 Global’s university and ecosystem partners.

More regionally, his Innovation Lab work includes ongoing projects as a principal in VentureLab, a program of Georgia Tech’s Office of Commercialization. In that capacity, he will work on VentureLab’s National Science Foundation-related Innovation Corps (I-Corps) programming. Those efforts, overseen by Commercialization Vice President Raghupathy “Siva” Sivakumar, includes the NSF I-Corps Hub Academy where Melecio will serve as director.

“Our efforts with Innovation Lab are really centered around finding new opportunities, new markets, and new industries by leveraging our areas of expertise at the Enterprise Innovation Institute and Georgia Tech to build economic development capacity in the life sciences and biosciences space,” Melecio said.

“We’re looking to take a broader perspective away from being hyper focused in one or two niche areas in life sciences to ensure that we maximize opportunities to support new ideas, build stronger practice areas in this space, and secure funding to bring those innovations to scale.”

NIH awards $2.9M grant to Annoviant for heart disease technology advancement

Annoviant co-founders Ajay Houde and Naren Vyavahare, CEO and chief technology officer, respectively.

ATLANTA — Annoviant Inc. a health technology company and member startup in the Enterprise Innovation Institute‘s Center for MedTech Excellence, is receiving a $2.99 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to further scale the development and commercialization of its TxGuardTM pulmonary-valved conduit for pediatric heart disease.

The award follows two Phase I NIH grants the company received, the most recent being in 2021.

Annoviant’s patented TxGuard™ stands at the forefront of technological innovation in conduit replacements for treating congenital heart disease (CHD), the most prevalent birth defect globally and a leading cause of birth-related mortality, the company said.

CHD encompasses a broad range of abnormalities that disrupt blood flow to and from the heart. It affects approximately 40,000 newborns annually — or 1% of births in the U.S. — and 1.35 million worldwide. With an estimated 2.9 million CHD patients in the U.S. alone, the need for advanced solutions is paramount.

“This marks a significant milestone for Annoviant as we accelerate our pursuit of impactful innovation to save lives,” said Annoviant CEO and co-founder Ajay Houde, Ph.D. “It validates our hypothesis and shows the NIH’s confidence in our ability to make good progress. Because we are a small startup, it gives private investors the confidence to invest with us and more companies working with us across the broader ecosystem.”

Addressing critical shortcomings observed in current commercial devices, TxGuard™ offers clinical advantages, notably its resistance to calcification, thrombosis, infection, and the host cell integration. This cutting-edge technology marks a new era in pediatric cardiac interventions, providing durable pulmonary valved grafts that adapt and regenerate alongside patients, minimizing the need for multiple re-operations over their lifetimes.

“Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the U.S. and is the most common birth defect in our newborns,” said Center for MedTech Excellence Director Nakia Melecio, who worked with Annoviant to help it scale and reviewed its federal funding submissions.

The Center for MedTech Excellence, which launched in 2022, works with early-stage life sciences startups that have specific obstacles that young tech companies in other sectors don’t face.

“This is a critical milestone for the company, and validates its research and work, thus far,” Melicio said. “Annoviant’s technology is tackling several challenges that the market currently faces and elevating the possibility for better patient outcomes in management of congestive heart failure.”

Pediatric patients with CHD often undergo multiple cardiovascular surgeries throughout their lives, with associated costs totaling billions for the U.S. healthcare industry. TxGuard™ offers a transformative solution to this ongoing challenge, promising extended durability and reduced healthcare burden for patients and providers alike.

He credited the company’s work with the Center for MedTech Excellence and being a health tech startup in the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s startup incubator, as being pivotal in Annoviant’s growth.

ATDC SBIR/STTR Catalyst Connie Casteel, who works with the incubator’s portfolio companies to help the prepare for these federal, non-dilutive funding grants, had worked with Annoviant on its federal funding approach and strategy.

“We went through the 16-week program with the MedTech Center and it really helped us think through the various aspects of the commercialization process and operational challenges we would face,” Houde said. “Greg Jungles at ATDC was also instrumental in helping us.  I’m really thankful for Nakia and his work with the MedTech Center and Greg and the team at ATDC.”

Georgia Tech Professor and Team Create Tool to Reduce Burn Risk in Surgeries

Jackson Medical co-founders, Kamil Makhnejia, chief operating officer (left), and CEO James Rains, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)
Jackson Medical co-founders, Kamil Makhnejia, chief operating officer (left), and CEO James Rains, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

Any surgical procedure comes with a degree of risk for patients. But there’s also stress for the surgical team who must adhere to strict protocols and procedures to ensure positive safe patient surgical outcomes.

Among the worries: accidentally burning a patient or operating room staff or setting fire to the surgical table draping. Although rare, burns can happen from the heat generated by fiber optic light cables that illuminate endoscopes and camera cables surgeons use during operations to see what’s happening internally.

James Rains, a professor in Georgia Tech’s Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, has developed a device to minimize that risk.

Rains is co-founder and CEO of Jackson Medical, an Atlanta-based medical device company that launched in 2016. Its flagship product, GloShield, is a flexible, ceramic fitted heat shield that covers the end of the light cable, which can get as hot as 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Whenever you want to look inside the body, you need to illuminate it. You need to provide a light source inside the body via a scope,” Rains said. The risk is present in the surgical field when equipment is assembled and disassembled, leading to a detached and exposed light cable.

GloShield is a flexible, ceramic fitted heat shield that covers the end of light cables used in surgical procedures. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)
GloShield is a flexible, ceramic fitted heat shield that covers the end of light cables used in surgical procedures. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

Current protocols call for someone on the surgical team to hold the cable or keep it from the patient’s skin or material can catch fire.  But those protocols aren’t always strictly followed as Rains and his team found when observing bladder and abdominal surgeries in metro Atlanta.

The Jackson Medical team’s observations and understanding of those risks was further underscored through interviews with more than 1,000 clinicians and practitioners across the country.

The GloShield device is designed with a flexible neck connected to a cap that fits snugly over the end of the light cable. The polymer used to create the devices remains cool to the touch. The cap flips up to allow the cable to reconnect to the scope when necessary.

“Surgeries are complex, and there are so many decisions that need to be made and so many tasks that need to be addressed by the surgical team,” said Kamil Makhnejia, another co-founder and who serves as the company’s chief operating officer. “There’s charting and taking care of the patient to ensure there’s proper equipment and specimen handoffs among team members during the entirety of the surgical procedure.”

It takes less than six seconds for the heat generated by a light cable to melt through a surgical drape or burn a patient, Makhnejia said, explaining that the device has been used in more than 100,000 surgeries to date.

“It’s not a matter of if something is going to happen, but when,” Rains said, adding that even though the risks remain low, medical professionals want solutions that reduce as many of those risks as possible and establish peace of mind. “During a surgical procedure, while you’re trying to juggle so many different things — we want to provide a layer of safety so that clinicians can keep their focus on patient outcome.”

That is the right approach said Dr. Howard Herman, an Atlanta surgeon in otorhinolaryngology, a surgical subspeciality of the head and neck, who has used GloShield in his operations.

“There are a lot of risks in surgery, and you try to minimize those risks,” said Herman, who has been a practicing surgeon for 29 years. “The beauty of this solution is that it mitigates the risk. To me, it should become part of the standard of care.”

GloShield devices have flexible necks connected to caps that fit over the end of light cables surgical teams use. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)
GloShield devices have flexible necks connected to caps that fit over the end of light cables surgical teams use. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

The Jackson Medical team developed and refined the GloShield prototype at the Global Center for Medical Innovation, a Georgia Tech affiliate, which helps startups in the medical device space through all stages of their lifecycle, ranging from prototype to commercialization.

Jackson Medical is also a portfolio company of the Center for MedTech Excellence. A program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the center supports and addresses the unique needs of early-stage medical device technologies.

“We often use the words disruption and innovation quite liberally, yet companies are far from both,” said Nakia Melecio, the Center for MedTech Excellence’s director. “When I think of the team at Jackson Medical, their technology is not only disruptive, but also a novel solution for most, if not all, surgeons to protect patients from burn injuries with a commonly used surgical tool.”

Enterprise Innovation Institute at Georgia Tech Launches Center for MedTech Excellence

Center to provide expertise in concept-to-commercialization of medical device technologies that can compete globally and improve the human condition

ATLANTA — The Center for MedTech Excellence, created to support and address the unique needs of early-stage medical device technologies, launched today with its first cohort of early-stage biotech companies.

Housed in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and funded by a federal grant, the Center will provide expertise in product realization, technology, medical device manufacturing, biotechnology, life science, and therapeutic innovations to early-stage entrepreneurs.

It is a collaborative effort of two Enterprise Innovation Institute programs — the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) and the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) — and the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), a Georgia Tech affiliate.

Nakia Melecio, founding director of the Center for MedTech Excellence

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the life science, medical device, therapeutic space, and what I saw was great programming,” said the Center’s Founding Director Nakia Melecio. “But there wasn’t any programming focused on taking companies from idea all the way to commercialization and including everything in between. There are a lot of accelerators and incubators, but none are focused, like we are, solely on developing, growing, and building life science companies.”

With its home in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, it was natural to partner with ATDC, GaMEP, and GCMI, says Melecio. “Georgia MEP, with its focus on manufacturing, can help companies navigate manufacturing strategy. GCMI’s expertise in the medical technology industry can help on the clinical side. While ATDC will be home to ScaleUp Lab, MedTech’s incubator.”

Georgia boasts a robust and growing medical technology and health ecosystem with metro Atlanta being a national leader in health information technology, vaccine research, clinical trials, and medical device development.

The state is also home to the CDC, the American Cancer Society, the Morehouse School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, and the Medical College of Georgia.

The Center, joining that network of resources, will support the sector’s continued expansion and job growth in the state, Melecio said.

“The MedTech Center supports and empowers innovators across a broad life-sciences and healthcare range to produce and accelerate the delivery of life-saving health and wellness solutions to people worldwide.”

The Center’s mission, he noted, is aligned with Georgia Tech’s goal to “develop leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.”

Supported by a $3 million Economic Development Administration Build to Scale grant, the Center will provide services at no cost to clients, who must be developing medical devices for human or animal use. They must be located in Georgia and intending to grow their employment in the state.

During the 16-week program, the Center will provide services to the cohort companies, including coaching/mentoring, capital raising, financial literacy, networking, site selection, cybersecurity, production scaling, product design, and development processes. There are 17 companies in the inaugural cohort.

The Center also includes Scaleup Lab, an incubator for developing and startup companies to catalyze growth and enhance research and development by introducing companies to industry leaders, delivering entrepreneurial programs, and providing a capital-efficient, flexible stage to convert today’s scientific discoveries into tomorrow’s breakthrough healthcare solutions. The accelerator classes will include eight to 12 companies that have been recruited, qualified, and advised by the Center’s expert network.

A second program, MedTech Center Health Innovation Hub: Life Science MedTech, is designed for science and healthcare companies seeking growth funding and connections to experts and strategic partners for product development and expansion. Through this program, select Scaleup Lab companies are matched with a personal team tasked with advising on the company’s next growth stage. The year-long, virtual program features presentations from advisors and investors on topics such as biotechnology, healthcare, and hospital systems; medical devices and diagnostics; therapeutics; pharmaceuticals; rare diseases; and consumer healthcare.

“I see the MedTech Center as a support and addition to the current life sciences and entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Melecio said. “It’s a place for businesses to get everything from customized program content to grant and investor support, all geared specifically toward life science companies.”

About the Enterprise Innovation Institute
The Enterprise Innovation Institute, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s economic development unit, serves all of Georgia through a variety of services and programs that build and scale startups, grow business enterprises, and energize ecosystem builders. As the nation’s largest and most comprehensive university-based economic development organization, the Institute’s expertise and reach are global; its innovation, entrepreneurship, and ecosystem development programs serve governments, universities, nonprofits, and other organizations worldwide. In 2021, the Enterprise Innovation Institute served more than 15,500 businesses, communities, and entrepreneurs. Those clients reported startup investment capital exceeding $1.1 billion and creating or saving more than 11,300 jobs. The Enterprise Innovation Institute’s total 2021 financial impact exceeded $2.9 billion. Learn more at innovate.gatech.edu.

About ATDC
The Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), a program of the Georgia Institute of Technology, is the state of Georgia’s technology startup incubator. Founded in 1980 by the Georgia General Assembly, which funds it each year, ATDC’s mission is to work with entrepreneurs in Georgia to help them learn, launch, scale, and succeed in the creation of viable, disruptive technology companies. Since its founding, ATDC has grown to become one of the longest running and most successful university-affiliated incubators in the United States, with its graduate startup companies raising $3 billion in investment financing and generating more than $12 billion in revenue in the state of Georgia. To learn more, visit atdc.org.

About the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership
Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) is a program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, whose purpose is to enhance global competitiveness for Georgia manufacturers. Each year, GaMEP offers coaching and training to more than 700 manufacturers across the state to help increase top-line growth, reduce bottom-line costs, and boost the economic well-being of Georgia. To learn more, visit gamep.org.

About the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI)
GCMI’s mission is to bring new medical technologies to market that improve quality-based outcomes and delivery of care for patients worldwide. To learn more, visit gcmiatl.com.

For media inquiries, contact:
Péralte C. Paul
404.316.1210
peralte.paul@comm.gatech.edu

For information about the Center for MedTech Excellence, contact:
Nakia Melecio
678.478.2422
nakia.melecio@innovate.gatech.edu