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West Virginia’s First NIH Phase I SBIR Grant in 8 Years Awarded to Huntington’s Progenesis Technologies, LLC

logoThe National Institute of Health (NIH) has awarded Progenesis Technologies, LLC, a Huntington, WV-based biotech firm with ties to Marshall University, a grant under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program for approximately $144,000, company officials announced today.

This is the first NIH Phase I award for a West Virginia company in eight years and underscores how innovative Progenesis’ technology is and the highly competitive nature of the SBIR program.

T. Ryan Withers, Ph.D., principal research scientist at Progenesis, said, “This grant is a validation of our company’s work over the past several years and will allow us to test the feasibility of our concept.”

Withers, a native West Virginian, said the primary goal of Progenesis Technologies, LLC is to genetically engineer bacteria to produce the biopolymer alginate at a cost that is competitive with seaweed-derived alginate. The Phase I SBIR grant was awarded to design and evaluate a non-pathogenic bacterial strain for the production of the biopolymer alginate.

L-to-R: Dr. Richard Niles, Dr. Ryan Withers, Dr. Hongwei Yu.

L-to-R: Dr. Richard Niles, Dr. Ryan Withers, Dr. Hongwei Yu.

Alginate is used in a variety of applications including textile manufacturing, waste water remediation, food production, and a variety of medical applications such as wound care and drug delivery.

The company has six months to test their concept and then can apply for a Phase II SBIR grant (up to $1 million) to help move the technology to market.

Richard Niles, PhD, CEO stated that “This award is an affirmation of the core technology behind Progenesis.  Engineering bacterial alginate at the molecular level will allow us to produce unique polymers that are suitable for new applications in medicine”.

Progenesis was founded in 2006 by Richard M. Niles, Ph.D., who currently serves as chief executive officer, and Hongwei D. Yu, Ph.D., the company’s chief science officer.  Niles recently retired from his duties as professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University.  Yu is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

The highly competitive SBIR program encourages domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research and Research and Development that has the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization.

For additional information, visit the company’s website at or contact Dr. T. Ryan Withers, Ph.D. at (304) 638-6500.