A big name in the medical field is joining the board of Galen Robotics, a biotech startup in Baltimore.
Robert Langer, one of the co-founders of pharmaceutical giant Moderna, said the Pigtown company’s robotic arm could change the way surgeries are done.
“I thought it was really cool and I think it could help a lot of people,” Langer said of Galen. “They’re bringing robotic surgery into areas that could make a huge impact.”
Langer, an engineer, has helped found dozens of biotech startups and is currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“He’s a legend. Everybody knows who he is,” Galen CEO Bruce Lichorowic said. “I wanted to get somebody on the board who had more business experience than me, and I wanted to have someone on the board who can give straight advice to us.”
Lichorowic compared Galen’s robotic arm to power steering for surgeons, saying it increases their dexterity and stability, reduces fatigue and prevents cramps during long surgeries — all of which lead to safer, less invasive surgeries.
Langer came to Galen thanks to neurosurgeon Henry Brem, another Galen board member who had worked with Langer in a lab decades ago. But Lichorowic said he still was surprised when Langer wanted to join the board.
“We were completely blown away that he would even consider ‘little old Galen who?’” Lichorowic joked.
Galen Robotics has its roots in research from Johns Hopkins University, but the firm had been based in Silicon Valley until 2019. Baltimore and Maryland wooed the company with about $9 million worth of incentives, Lichorowic said, and Galen decided to settle in Pigtown which is covered by an Opportunity Zone, a federal place-based tax incentive program.
“The reception that Baltimore gave us was incredible,” Lichorowic said.
The company currently employs about 40 people, about half of whom have advanced degrees from Johns Hopkins, said Lichorowic, adding that the company plans to grow to 60 positions by the end of the year.
The robotic arm being developed by Galen is not for sale yet, but Lichorowic said the company expects to submit an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this year.
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Galen raised $15 million in its Series A venture capital funding round that closed in December, Lichorowic said, and it recently opened an additional round to raise $10 million more.
He said the company also has benefited from the state’s Biotechnology Investment Incentive Tax Credit, in which Maryland gives rebates to investors in biotech companies. Investors in Galen have gotten about $2.1 million in rebates, Lichorowic said. He said it helped the firm raise money from investors outside the state and called the credit “one of the most effective programs for startups we’ve seen.”
Lichorowic said the graduates of schools like the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins are incredible, and Baltimore seems like the “greatest exporter” of talent and intelligence. Now he’s trying to keep that talent local and help build the city’s biotech industry.
“Baltimore has all the right parts,” said Lichorowic, noting its incubators, funding, mentoring and government support.
It just needs a little more of all of that, he said.
Langer said it was great that Galen chose Baltimore, praising the city and its universities. MIT and Stanford University are a big reason why biotech startups choose to locate in Boston and Silicon Valley, he said, and Langer thinks the same can happen in Baltimore.
“You build, a lot of times, around a great university and medical school,” Langer said.