“This Monday, on the 23rd of this month, we will mark our Sixth Annual Maternal Health Awareness Day here in New Jersey,” First Lady Tammy Murphy said Jan. 20, announcing the awardees of grants going to New Jersey startups focused on supporting maternal and infant health. “In that time, we have made some really significant strides.”
The Friday announcement – made at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s (NJEDA) New Jersey Bioscience Center (NJBC) in North Brunswick – marked another stride forward for those efforts, with a combined $1.275 million in grants of up to $75,000 each awarded to 17 startups through the Maternal and Infant Health R&D Seed Grant Program by the Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology (CSIT) board.
The funding will help to accelerate the recipients’ development of technologies, products and services.
NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan, CSIT Executive Director Judith Sheft, CSIT Chair Debbie Hart, along with several grantees and other stakeholders, were on hand for the announcement.
Meet the grantees:
- Analytical Diagnostic Solutions – Mount Laurel
- ANMP LLC – Westfield
- Curio Digital Therapeutics – Princeton
- Enalare Therapeutics – Princeton
- INTEGURX Therapeutics – Whitehouse Station
- Lactiga Inc. – North Brunswick
- Medifvu LLC – Mendham
- Melinated Moms LLC – Trenton
- Neo GeneStar LLC – Somerset
- Neoneur LLC – Pennington
- Nutrivide Inc. – New Brunswick
- Portable Diagnostics System Inc. – Robbinsville
- Ricovr Health Inc. – Princeton
- Stateam LLC – Somerset
- Vital Start Health Inc. – Princeton
- Vitruviae – Nutley
- Within Health Technologies LLC – Hopewell
The program supports the goals established by the Nurture NJ Strategic Plan, launched by the first lady and Gov. Phil Murphy with the aim of making New Jersey the safest and most equitable place in America to deliver and raise a baby.
“And while every step that we take and every aspect of our Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan is an essential part of our strategy to solve New Jersey’s maternal health crisis, there is perhaps no field more promising than research and innovation,” said Tammy Murphy. “That is why one of my top priorities for the next three years is to ensure our Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center in Trenton is not only built but thriving.”
The first lady said that facility, which is currently under development, will continue the collective work in this space past the Murphy Administration, serving as an incubator for research and development, an academic and perinatal workforce training center, a data collective and more.
“This one-of-a-kind center will not only help us transform the maternal and infant health landscape here in New Jersey, but it will make our state the national model and gold standard for maternal care,” said Murphy. “And after reading about the work of today’s grant recipients, it is clear that all of you will be essential partners in reaching that goal.”
“One group is working on novel therapies to eliminate the virus that causes the most birth defects in the United States. Another is developing a lotion to fight morning sickness. And another is creating next-level formula,” she said. “These are really revolutionary ideas. And I am beyond proud that they’re originating here in New Jersey. And, by the way, those are just a few of the projects receiving grants today.”
The first lady highlighted additional efforts, such as developing an easier method of obtaining blood samples, using state-of-the-art technology to treat postpartum disorders, and designing pacifiers that are able to properly dose medicine to an infant.
“I say this to every grant recipient here today. I am literally blown away by your creativity and your genius,” said Murphy. “I obviously do not have a background in science, but I am a mother of four and I know first-hand what a difference projects like these will make in the lives of mothers across the state, and ultimately, perhaps our nation and beyond.”
She added that these projects truly have the power to address many pregnancy and maternal health-related concerns, save lives, ease discomfort and make significant medical advancements.
“And more than that, it is obvious that every single awardee receiving a grant has led their work not only with innovation and talent, but also with empathy and understanding of the specific needs of mothers,” said Murphy. “And that at the end of the day is the core of our work. I am beyond impressed, and really just so very grateful to know and now count each and every one of you as a partner to Nurture NJ. With our center and your projects transforming the landscape of maternal and infant health, we will make New Jersey the safest and most equitable state in the nation to deliver and raise a baby.”
‘Who better than New Jersey?’
Sullivan opened his remarks by noting that the NJBC is an NJEDA facility, and that many companies on the North Brunswick campus have grown into large organizations from small seeds, like those grantees highlighted on Friday.
He said the hope was for these awards to seed the next generation of companies to tackle the challenges and help solve the enduring crisis in maternal and infant health.
“This announcement, this program, this initiative really brings together two centerpieces of Gov. Murphy and First Lady Murphy’s strategy overall. One, as the first lady just said, making New Jersey the safest and most equitable place to have and raise a baby,” said Sullivan. “And two, recapturing New Jersey’s leadership position in innovation and entrepreneurship. And those two goals come together here, because who better than New Jersey?
“We are the medicine chest of the world. We were Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley,” he continued. “Who better than New Jersey? Who’s better positioned than us to bring the power of innovation and science and research and discovery and higher ed to this horrible challenge of maternal and infant health?”
The NJEDA CEO also echoed the first lady’s sentiments about the planned Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center, describing it as a “game-changer.”
“The companies that are applicants for and now awardees under this grant program are exactly the kind of companies we hope will call that space home,” said Sullivan, noting that the NJEDA has applied for $25 million in federal funding to go along with $20 million in state funding and that a request for quote is planned for the first quarter of this year to help identify partners in building the center.
As he turned over the microphone to Sheft, Sullivan pointed out that they were in the same room where Gov. Murphy signed legislation in 2018 re-establishing the CSIT.
“The governor signed that bill bringing back the Commission, and it was because we wanted to do things just like this program and lots of other programs,” said Sullivan. “Because innovation, we think, is the essential ingredient to durable job creation.”
A diverse mix
“Helping these startups to advance their products and servicers from ideas through the commercialization will have a lasting impact on the quality of care for New Jersey’s mothers and infants. The awardees are working on a variety of drug, diagnostic, hardware and software solutions to address and improve maternal and infant health,” said Sheft. “CSIT is responsible for strengthening the innovation economy in New Jersey, encouraging collaboration and connectivity between industry, academia and the translation of innovation into successful, high-growth businesses.”
Sheft was particularly encouraged that many of these grantees were new to CSIT and had not received prior funding — meaning they were connecting with companies that could be brought into the CSIT and NJEDA family to leverage their capabilities.
She was also encouraged by the diversity of the recipients.
“These are small companies. The majority of these companies have five or fewer employees,” said Sheft. “So, these are really early-stage, getting started companies. And we saw a real increase in the diversity of the awardees. Thirty-eight percent were self-reported as minority-owned businesses and 33% were self-reported as women-owned businesses.”
“We applaud these innovators who are creating solutions where they are so desperately needed, as well as the first lady for her foresight and commitment to this important work,” said Hart. “We are grateful to have the opportunity to partner in this way and that babies and their families will benefit in meaningful ways.”
Following the announcement, Murphy spoke to NJBIZ and emphasized again just how critical of an issue this is and how she believes their efforts in this area are making an impact.
“Things are happening and it’s really great that we’re now starting to see this,” Murphy told NJBIZ. “We have three years to run like heck to make sure that the Innovation Center is up-and-running. And there’s a lot of other pieces to the puzzle that are falling into place.”
Murphy said it is going to take transformational change in this space to move the needle here in the United States, which she noted is 56th in the world for maternal mortality rates.
“We are in a really horrible place, and it’s something that most people don’t even know about,” she said. “We are working doggedly to correct the situation. But all of these ideas, they’re all going to help.”
Murphy added that bringing together an effort like this underscores the Garden State’s role in advancing maternal and infant health. “I’m really excited about this grant,” she said.