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10 Startups to Watch in 2010: Fyodor Technologies

Baltimore Business Journal by Julekha Dash

As a child growing up in Nigeria, Eddy C. Agbo saw first hand the devastating effects of malaria.

“A lot of children died from it in my village,” Agbo said. “It was traumatic.”

Agbo now wants to do something about the disease that kills nearly 1 million people a year.

“Malaria is the daily problem within Africa,” Agbo said, “Everyone knows the daily signs.”

Last year, Agbo launched Fyodor Biotechnologies Corp. that has developed a prototype of a urine malaria test that would aid government workers, travelers and residents in developing countries to determine if they have the mosquito-borne disease. An estimated 18 million travelers visit malaria-infested regions each year.

A urine test will hopefully make it easier for physicians to administer, compared with the alternative method of drawing blood, said Dr. David Sullivan, a microbiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Sullivan is collaborating with Agbo to develop the test.

Having another diagnostic tool to detect malaria that doesn’t involve poking would be “lovely,” said Carol DeRosa, senior vice president of operations for Passport Health. The Baltimore-based company operates a chain of clinics that immunize travelers.

Malaria can be devastating to pregnant women and children in particular, DeRosa said.

“Everyone who walks through this door and gets prepared for travel is going to get counseled on malaria,” she said.

This year, Fyodor plans to start clinical trials, relying on researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center who will test the product.

By 2014, Agbo hopes to develop a drug to treat malaria and sell the drug and urine test as one product.

Getting there won’t be easy. Agbo needs to raise $2.4 million this year to fund the trials and get the urine test to market in 2011. Fyodor is applying for small business grants from the National Institutes of Health, research grants from the U.S. Army and is talking to prospective angel investors.

But convincing travelers that they need a malaria test or drug could be difficult. Currently, some travelers take oral medications to stave off the effects of malaria prior to getting on the plane, DeRosa said. Many travelers will never need a test or drug to treat it.

The company has raised $500,000 through private investors and research grants including the Maryland Technology Development Corp. and the Maryland Industrial Partnerships program.

MIPS contributed $89,000 to fund a joint research project between Fyodor and University of Maryland, College Park Assistant Professor Ganesh Sriram. Fyodor and the University of Maryland are developing the technology so they can produce the malaria drug artemisinin from yeast. Currently, drugs treating malaria can only be derived from a plant found in China and Vietnam. Manufacturing the drug means that malaria patients and organizations won’t be dependent on plant harvest yields — that vary from season to season — to get an adequate supply of the treatment, said Maryland Industrial Partnerships Director Martha Connolly.

“There’s an unmet need for malaria drugs,” Connolly said. “They are well positioned in a growing market.”

This month, Fyodor is moving into a 1,500-square-foot space at the University of Maryland BioPark. Agbo hopes to hire at least two scientists and a research assistant to join the four-person company.

“Things are already rolling in the right direction for us,” he said.