FirstString Research Wins Tibbetts Award from US Small Business Administration

Contact: Heather Woolwine

Feb 15, 2015

CHARLESTON, SC – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) awarded the Tibbetts Award to FirstString Research at a ceremony in the White House on Jan. 10. The Tibbetts Award honors Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program participants who “have created a significant economic or social impact… and are considered the best of the best from the thousands of firms that participate in the SBIR/STTR program,” according to the SBA website.

Support from the SBIR program enabled FirstString to advance its aCT1-based lead product, Granexin® gel, through four human clinical studies. Pivotal trials are currently underway, green-lighted by the FDA. The product has demonstrated superior clinical benefit in radiation injuries to the skin, diabetic foot ulcers, and venous leg ulcers, making it a highly desirable therapy showing great promise as a new standard of care in the future.

“It is an honor to receive this prestigious award,” said Dr. Gautam Ghatnekar, FirstString’s president and CEO. “The SBIR and STTR programs have helped immensely in advancing our product pipeline through preclinical and clinical testing. FirstString is dedicated to the development of cutting-edge therapeutic options for diseases and conditions that have high unmet therapeutic needs and we are very pleased to have this recognition of our long-term efforts and accomplishments with respect to this goal.”

As a result of laboratory discoveries made at the Medical University of South Carolina several years ago, FirstString Research seeks to deliver clinically relevant and effective solutions for inflammation and injury-based medical conditions by better understanding the molecular and cellular contexts that define how the disease process works. It was an unexpected discovery in working with electronic signaling in heart muscles in another researcher’s lab that led Ghatnekar to realize that the peptide he was working with had the potential to decrease scar tissue and heal wounds faster in laboratory animals. A resulting topical gel was shown to decrease scar tissue and heal wounds faster in laboratory mice, leading to the formation of FirstString Research. The peptide works by inhibiting the production of scar tissue and catalyzing the production of new tissue to heal a wound, similar to how a lizard might re-grow its tail if it were injured.

FirstString Research is now advancing the development of its novel peptide-based therapeutic platform for several unmet medical needs, including radiation-induced injuries to the skin, chronic wounds, ophthalmology, burns, organ preservation, and oncology. Its lead drug, aCT1, mitigates excessive inflammation by reinforcing cell-to-cell contacts in endothelial cells (blood vessel wall), and restoring cell-to-cell communication that restores and enables cellular coordination and leads to improved injury response.

This collaborative pipeline of biotechnology involving MUSC and FirstString serves as a successful model for other academic medical centers to improve human health with comprehensive strategies to commercialize and move these kinds of much needed products into the market for patient use.

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the oldest medical school in the South, as well as the state’s only integrated, academic health sciences center with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and more than 850 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. With $298 million in research funding in fiscal year 2022, the collaboration between faculty, staff, students, and our partners accelerates the movement of scientific discoveries that improve lives. Find out more about our academic programs.

As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality and safe patient care while training generations of compassionate, competent health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Close to 25,000 care team members provide care for patients at 14 hospitals with approximately 2,500 beds and 5 additional hospital locations in development, more than 300 telehealth sites and nearly 750 care locations situated in the Lowcountry, Midlands, Pee Dee and Upstate regions of South Carolina. In 2022, for the eighth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. Learn more about clinical patient services.

MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $4.4 billion. The nearly 25,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care.

About FirstString Research
FirstString Research was founded on a vision to deliver breakthrough solutions for inflammation and injury based medical conditions through a better understanding of the molecular and cellular contexts that define the underlying pathology. Our focus is on diseases associated with dysregulation of inflammatory processes and modulation of injury response, such as in cutaneous radiation injury, radiation dermatitis, and wounds. Inflammation is an inevitable and potentially harmful response to tissue damage or trauma and understanding the molecular basis underlying the body’s systemic inflammatory response within the context of the injury offers significant therapeutic opportunity. Our technology works to mitigate the spread of injury signal and limit the inflammatory response, thereby creating an environment for reduced skin damage and faster healing. Our approach effectively “reboots” the normal injury response mechanisms and serves to reduce the spread of injury signals, mitigate excessive inflammatory response, accelerate re-epithelialization, promote normal healing and prevent long-term complications. FirstString Research’s management and advisory team has a proven track record of building and leading companies in the research, biotechnology, and biopharmaceutical sectors, and brings decades of experience in drug discovery and development. Their scientific excellence and range of expertise, in the drug discovery and development process, has resulted in several FDA-approved breakthrough therapies in oncology and inflammation-based disorders. For more information on FirstString Research, visit FirstString Research website.