New Mexico scientists have founded nearly 150 life science startups in the last 10 years. The rest of the country is starting to notice.

WaveFront Dynamics engineer James Copland aligns the optical systems on the Albuquerque-based company’s specialized eye-measuring machine, which is used to provide customized vision correction for difficult-to-treat patients. (Adria Malcolm/For the Journal)

New Mexico’s start-up economy is thriving, thanks in large part to a surge of new life sciences companies working to transform innovative technologies into new products and services.

In fact, the life sciences sector has dominated the startup landscape in recent years, with more patents granted to New Mexico innovators in the sector over the past decade than any other local industry, according to national economic research firm D&B Hoovers.

Nearly 150 local life science startups have formed in the last 10 years alone, Hoovers recently reported, with operations scattered across the state. This includes a wide range of health-related products and services, as well as new biotechnology to improve agricultural production and protect the environment.

Continued innovation and discovery at state research universities and national laboratories has created a steady pipeline of emerging technologies that creative entrepreneurs and venture investors are working to bring to market. The University of New Mexico, in particular, has become a hotbed for healthcare startups working to commercialize new medical devices, diagnostic tools, and therapeutics.

Both the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces also create many life science startups based on their research and engineering specialties. NMSU, for example, is emerging as a center of excellence in agricultural biotechnology.

Research and development at UNM Health Sciences, combined with the university’s Center for Biomedical Engineering, inspired the creation of 39 health-related start-ups over the 10-year period from FY2013 to FY2022, said Lisa Kuuttila, UNM Chief Economic Development Officer and Head of Rainforest Innovations, which manages the university’s technology transfer.

This corresponds to about 44% of the total of 89 startup companies founded with UNM technology in the last ten years. And in recent years, that ratio has increased, with 17 out of 29 companies, or 58%, being new life science companies formed with UNM innovation over the four-year period from FY2019 to FY2022.

“More and more companies are being developed,” Kuuttila told the Journal. “The life sciences industry is emerging as a really important sector for our state… Many startups are small in their early stages, but we now have a wide range of companies that we didn’t have 10 years ago.”

Some of the recently formed life science startups across the state are:

• BennuBio, an Albuquerque company that sells high-speed cytometers, or cell meters, for use in medical diagnostics

• WaveFront Dynamics or WaveDyn, which has developed a special eye measurement machine to help adjust vision correction for difficult-to-treat patients

• Nature’s Toolbox or NTxBio, which has developed technology to rapidly manufacture new vaccines and drugs based on processes originally licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory

• BioFlyte Inc., which markets proprietary airborne biological threat detection technology

• Los Alamos-based Innate Immunity, which is commercializing a new protein, originally developed at LANL, that boosts the immune system of plants to protect crops from disease

• Circular Genomics, which is commercializing UNM technology to diagnose depression and other neurological disorders

• Armonica Technologies, which is developing another UNM innovation for rapid genome sequencing

• MNT SmartSolutions, which makes a remote-controlled, magnetic toothpaste and toothbrush that injects antibacterial solutions into the nooks and crannies of gums and teeth

BennuBio Lead Application Scientist Diane Yost works at the company’s Albuquerque headquarters on the Velocyt, a high-speed cytometer, or cell meter, for medical diagnostics that BennuBio is marketing. (Jim Thompson/Magazine)

In the startup world, many new companies with promising technology often fail in the early stages or never gain traction in the market.

But many of New Mexico’s startups are making steady strides in technology development and market penetration, fueled by the state’s vibrant startup ecosystem, which offers robust business development services and often access to capital, said Stuart Rose, founder of the BioScience Center in Uptown Albuquerque.

“We still have a lot of young companies, but today we also have much more advanced startups that have established themselves,” Rose told the Journal. “They are not mature companies yet, but many are well positioned to achieve breakthrough growth over time.”

Some companies have already achieved breakthrough growth. For example, two local companies were recently bought by large, financially strong corporations, which can now accelerate their market penetration.

Public company Cadence Design Systems paid $500 million this summer to acquire OpenEye Scientific, a Santa Fe-based molecular design and modeling software company. And data analytics firm Health Catalyst paid nearly $105 million in the summer of 2021 to acquire Twistle, an Albuquerque-based company that has built a patient engagement system to connect healthcare teams directly with patients through automated communications.

The success of the life sciences industry in New Mexico is attracting national attention, which could attract more companies and investors to the state in the future.

“We’re starting to get noticed,” Kuuttila said. “We have worked very hard to achieve this. I’m really optimistic about the prospects.”

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