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STARTUPS & INNOVATIONS

PARTNERSHIPS

NkMax America of Santa Ana said it signed an agreement to work with Affimed NV (Nasdaq: AFMD) to study their natural killer stem cell therapies together to treat cancer patients in a phase 1 trial. 

NkMax is currently conducting two phase 1 trials for solid tumors and two phase II trials for solid tumors and lung cancer. It also expects to move into trials for breast cancer, late-stage cancer and immune-related diseases next year. 

NkMax harvests natural killer cells from the patient’s own blood, activates the cells and infuses them back into the patient’s body.

Unlike most cell therapy companies, NkMax says it has the capabilities to manufacture cells from one patients’ blood and give it to another in need, though this type of transplant has yet to be approved by the FDA. 

Sanwoo Park, chief executive of NkMax and its South Korean parent company, formed the subsidiary with Chief Medical Officer Paul Song in Irvine in late 2018. 

NkMax, which purchased its 25,000-square-foot building for $6.3 million in late 2019, said it expects to at least double in size to about 130 employees and purchase additional office space in OC next year.

VolunteerCrowd of Irvine has joined forces with career and college counseling platform myKlovr to expand volunteer opportunities for students.

VolunteerCrowd helps students find volunteer opportunities and keep track of their volunteer hours and organizational affiliations through an online ledger.

MyKlovr users will have access to VolunteerCrowd and volunteering opportunities.

“With VolunteerCrowd, students can engage virtually online or in socially-distant volunteer projects related to their future college majors or careers,” said Chief Executive Amy Von Kaenel. “Our students’ service portfolios reflect their academic curiosity, community impact, and character development.”

Virtual volunteering opportunities include online student tutoring and senior-assistance and companion programs.

Irvine-based software maker Everguard.ai, whose technology is focused on industrial safety, said it will introduce its safety and surveillance platform to Zekelman Industries’ Atlas Tube facility in Arkansas.

Zekelman Industries is the largest steel-tube manufacturer in the U.S., and is led by Canadian billionaire Barry Zekelman.

Zekelman Industries said it previously invested in a truck tarping safety system for its shipping bay area, which helps workers avoid falls and injuries as loads are being tarped (covered with tarp) on semi-trailers.

Everguard.ai will incorporate its software, which uses cameras, sensors, wearables, artificial intelligence and computer vision, into the tarping safety system to provide proactive and near-real time alerts to potential risks.

“We’ve always embraced emerging technologies in our business,” Zekelman said in a statement. “This innovative new AI platform has the potential to further assist us in operating at the highest possible level of safety and efficiency.”

ACQUISITION

TOCA Football Inc., the Costa Mesa-based owner and operator of about 13 soccer training facilities in seven states and Canada, said it acquired the multi-sport training program Kids In Sports at the end of October.

“Kids In Sports introduces younger children to athletics in an age appropriate manner and uses positive reinforcement to build self-esteem and sportsmanship,” Chief Executive Yoshi Maruyama said. “We are delighted to offer this unique program at our training centers, and we invite anyone and everyone—no matter your age or skill level—to come play and create memorable moments at TOCA.”

TOCA will incorporate the Kids In Sports curriculum into its training programs, which utilize the company’s soccer machine. It’s similar to a tennis ball machine in that it dispenses soccer balls at timed intervals and in specific directions.

The company, which raised $25 million last October, shuttered its facilities in March and reopened the majority by May.

“The demand to participate in soccer and sports remains,” said Maruyama.

“Our customers have returned, feeling confident and comfortable with our high standards for safety and social distancing.”

It’s also moving ahead with plans to open its first TOCA Social, a 30,000-square-feet entertainment venue in London with a soccer arena and food and beverage options, in the summer of 2021.

VENTURE STUDIO

OC4 Venture Studio of Costa Mesa has rebranded as Operate Studio.

The new name reflects the venture studio’s team of hands-on operators who help software startups execute on their business as well as provide capital investments, the company said.

The OC4 referred to four specific initiatives—capital, collision, community and coaching. The studio still aims to incorporate these initiatives in its model.

Operate has made seven investments ranging from $100,000 to $750,000 in software technology companies since its launch earlier this year.

Its portfolio includes local companies like Chatterworks, a talent recruitment platform; Givsum, a fundraising and volunteering platform charitable organizations; and Float, a fintech app that recently launched a mortgage marketplace that helps users compare loan options with leading lenders.

Operate works with several software companies in Los Angeles and San Francisco, including its most recent investment in Los Angeles-based Grin Gaming, the developer of a gaming contest platform that works with live streams.

REGULATORY APPROVAL

Cognita Labs of Santa Ana received federal clearance for its portable lung-assessment device in late October. The company’s PulmoScan device measures airway resistance and elastance and doesn’t require patients to breathe forcefully into the device.

By contrast, the ‘gold standard’ spirometer device that is most often used to determine lung function requires patients to forcefully breathe into the device.

As a result, many patients, including about 10% of the population that suffers from chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma, have difficulty performing a spirometry test.

“Millions of patients don’t have access to objective lung testing, even in developed countries,” said Chief Executive Gaurav Patel. “Our goal is to bring state of the art testing to all patients.”

The PulmoScan has also been approved for at-home use and received reimbursement codes for remote patient monitoring.

Cognita Labs has been funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health thus far.

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