Aakha Biologics calls itself “a world-changing drug discovery engine.” In the last year, it’s seen a lot of changes itself. First its founder relocated from Boston to Dallas to start it up in May 2021, moving into interim space managed by BioLabs at UT Southwestern. Then in March it became one of the inaugural tenants at BioLabs Pegasus Park, a 37,000-square-foot coworking laboratory and office space for life science and biotech startups.
Now, just three months later, Aakha has moved into permanent headquarters at 5680 Frisco Square in Frisco, while retaining a membership with BioLabs Pegasus Park to stay connected with its ecosystem and programming activities.
“Our time at BioLabs Pegasus Park proved to be an ideal situation for us. We had excellent opportunities to interact with colleagues and like-minded entrepreneurs,” Hemanta Baruah, PhD, founder and CEO of Aakha Biologics, said in a statement. “With the premier facility and synergies available within Pegasus Park, we moved from concept to a solid preclinical stage company in the course of one year.”
Aakha’s ‘drug hunters’ move from concept to IND-enabling studies
Aakha Biologics—whose name means “hope” in India’s Assamese language—has a goal of being in the fast lane when it comes to speeding cancer drugs to patients.
“We value efficiency in the drug discovery process, rapidly bringing high quality therapeutics to patients,” the startup says on its website. “We utilize multiple advanced antibody discovery platforms to empower experienced drug hunters to go efficiently from concept to IND [Investigational New Drug] enabling studies.”
Aakha says that its synergistic approach reduces the time required to optimize, develop, and produce “world-class therapeutic options,” with complementary discovery and business models “designed to support the scientists who create therapies that save lives.”
At its new lab in Frisco, Aakha has “almost everything we need for our day-to-day activity,” Baruah told Dallas Innovates, “including a $250,000 fluorescent cell screening scanner” that’s being installed in the next two weeks, and other high-end equipment.
“We are focused on building the next generation immuno-oncology bi-specific platform for multiple tumor indications,” Baruah said.
Aakha’s founder and CEO worked at UT Arlington cancer immunotherapy startup
Baruah, the company’s founder and CEO, was formerly principal scientist at Arlington-based AbeXXa Biologics, a faculty startup from UT Arlington that was acquired by Germany-based Boehringer Ingelheim in 2021. Baruah moved to the Boston area in 2018 to take the role of associate director of protein engineering at Dragonfly Therapeutics. From 2020 to 2021, Baruah was an entrepreneur in residence at Alloy Therapeutics’ affiliated venture studio, also in suburban Boston. He founded Aakha Biologics on his return to North Texas in May 2021.
“Aakha Biologic’s commitment to locate and grow in North Texas signals the region’s strong biotech commercialization potential,” said BioLabs Pegasus Park’s site director, Gabby Everett, PhD, in the statement. “Operations here in North Texas are supporting promising life science startups that will change the world and benefit mankind.”
Raising funds soon to fuel growth and hire more staff
Baruah said Aakha currently has four employees, and is currently raising funding with plans to hire “an additional four to six people in the next three months.”
Aakah’s team includes some key players from Baruah’s time at Alloy Therapeutics in Greater Boston. Alloy’s founder and CEO, Errik Anderson, is an Aakah board member. Chris Pacheco, PhD, a general partner at 82VS, Alloy’s affiliated venture studio, serves as a strategic advisor for Aakha.
Other Aakha team members include scientist Manoj Sabnani, another Alloy Therapeutics alum and former lab coordinator at UT Arlington; associate scientist Vikram Mavinkurve, who previously served as an immunotherapeutics, immune monitoring, and epidemiology researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center; and Taylor Gray, a scientist with a PhD from the University of Chicago who focuses on the tumor microenvironment for cancer immunotherapy.
Fourteen tenants now operate at BioLabs Pegasus Park
There are now 14 companies operating out of BioLabs Pegasus Park, occupying 40% of the space, BioLabs says. About half of the tenants relocated to Dallas from the West and East coasts, while the other half came out of North Texas.
“Demand for the co-working lab and office facilities has been high ever since the facility’s grand opening in March, as we meet with prospective companies every week,” Everett said in a statement. “The space that was originally occupied by Aakha Biologics is now filled and only one medium 10-bench private lab is still available. Our team is pleased with the interest among biotech and life science companies.”
The Pegasus Park location—near the bustling Dallas Medical District northeast of downtown—is Boston-based BioLabs’ first outpost in the Central U.S.
Everett, the site director, told Dallas Innovates the average tenure for a company at BioLabs is “around 12 to 18 months.”
“BioLabs helps to de-risk biotech by providing companies with space and access to equipment that they normally wouldn’t be able to have access to in an early stage,” Everett added. “We help launch companies into permanent North Texas locations by providing networking opportunities and connections to the ecosystem.”
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