By LANCE WIEDOWER
Honey is more than just a sweet substance for SweetBio. It’s the main ingredient in the healing process that comes with its guided tissue regeneration membrane that will be used in oral surgeries.
SweetBio is a Memphis-based biotech company with a mission to make a membrane that can be used in oral surgeries to regenerate tissue and bone. It combines Manuka honey with natural wound-healing potential and antibacterial properties.
SweetBio was founded in March, but the idea for the product has been in development for a few years, dating back to when CEO and co-founder Isaac Rodriguez was at Virginia Commonwealth University where he earned his doctor of philosophy in 2013.
“I had an oral surgeon who wanted a very specific product come to the lab,” Rodriguez said. “He sought out our lab. It went through several years of development, and when I moved to the University of Memphis he wanted to keep going. We came up with the idea of how to combine ideas out there for wound healing.”
Rodriguez’s dissertation was on bones. He said he felt this honey project was a great application to create a membrane.
So earlier this year the idea moved past the lab setting with the goal of developing something that could move to an actual project.
While Rodriguez was the brains behind the science of the product, he said he needed business experience. His sister, Kayla Rodriguez, moved from the San Francisco Bay area to help launch SweetBio. And Marsalas Whitaker, a recent biomedical engineering graduate of the University of Memphis who has experience in other medical startups, joined the team to serve as vice president of external research and relations.
“I met with Isaac about what he was doing and fell in love with the product,” Whitaker said. “It made sense since I was doing research on a similar project.”
Development of the technology began last year and a provisional patent was filed. It was converted to a non-provisional this year.
“Our vision as a company is we want to revolutionize healing,” Kayla Rodriguez said. “The world deserves to smile. We feel this can help save lives.”
The product will be used to help fill in gaps during oral procedures such as when a tooth is extracted. It will help prevent infections.
“I think it’s exciting that we’re using something everyone knows,” Isaac Rodriguez said. “You can relate to honey. The science and health benefits of honey are gaining traction. It’s being used for skin wounds. The way we’re using it is what makes it new. It’s fun being on the cutting edge, but going back to Mother Nature. We’re merging history and technology and being on the forefront of honey in healing. We’ll be one of the first products that uses honey in an implantable device.”
The team faces challenges, but Kayla Rodriguez said the opportunity was too exciting when she made the decision to relocate to Memphis.
“It’s pretty simple to start a company. You need time and an idea,” she said. “With a medical startup it’s a lot different. It’s incredibly regulated. You need a lot of resources and support. … But I relocated to Memphis to base the company here because of the support for biomedical that is here.”
Much is on the horizon for the company. The immediate future will see the company raising funds to help secure big milestones. The first is clinical trials. The goal is to submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the spring or summer and to have a product that is commercially available by 2017.
The immediate goal is to raise about $1 million to help accomplish FDA clearance and the product launch.
“The last 30 days have been incredible,” Kayla Rodriguez said. “Our network has opened up. We’re going to Utah in a couple of months to a large dental center where they will give us feedback on the product we’re working on.”