Fairway startup aims to challenge the scientific status quo on concussions

December 27, 2019
Lily Lieberman-Kansas City Business Journal

Dr. Barry Festoff, a professor of neurology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, wants to change the way concussion and mild traumatic brain injury are diagnosed.
As the CEO of Fairway-based therapeutic biotech company Phlogistix LLC, he is working with several local companies, including one of the area’s fastest-growing businesses, to develop a blood test for concussions for point-of-injury diagnosis.
Currently, effective diagnosis is limited to observing symptoms typical of head trauma like headache, confusion and dizziness. Repeated concussions can lead to dementia and other neurological conditions if untreated.
Festoff said that ideally, anyone including a soccer coach, a mom or a trainer, can use the handheld device on the sidelines of a game to run the diagnostic test. The test can be used on children and adults in a variety of situations that could result in head trauma.
The in-development device scans the patient’s blood for specific biomarkers or indicators of concussion and sends the results to a smartphone which displays the results “like a traffic signal.” The data is then transmitted through encrypted software to the patient’s electronic medical record.
However, eight years in, the “shoestring operation” continues to look for a breakthrough.
Challenging the status quo:
In homage to the French aristocrat who paved the way for modern chemistry with the discovery of oxygen, Festoff named his company Phlogistix.
The name is a tribute to 18th-century French chemist Antoine Lavoisier who disproved the widely accepted scientific theory that the phenomena of burning — now called oxidation — was caused by the liberation of a fire-like element called phlogiston. Lavoisier debunked the theory, renaming the “dephologisticated air” oxygen.
Like Lavoisier, Festoff aims to challenge the scientific status quo.
Phlogistix, which Festoff founded in 2011, aims to develop new approaches to treat neuro-inflammation and change the way concussion and mild traumatic brain injury are diagnosed.
“Lavoisier didn’t call it oxygen in the beginning. He called it dephlogisticated air because he had to deal with the existing theory,” Festoff said. “That’s the concept of this company: to deal with the existing theories (surrounding neuro-inflammation) and to replace them.”
A competitive hurdle:
In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved a blood-based biomarker test for brain injury from Alachua, Fla.-based Banyan Biomarkers Inc. The device primarily is used to rule out the need for CT scans in adults with suspected head injuries.
Festoff said it’s hard to estimate if this test actually has changed the landscape for concussion diagnosis because the test does not rule out a blood injury in the brain.
Phlogistix is developing blood panels to test for concussion as well as other conditions like Alzheimer’s disease in which the blood brain barrier is disrupted. When that crucial lining is broken, substances in the blood stream can easily infiltrate brain tissue and the disruption is associated with brain inflammatory conditions.
Phlogistix’s proposed device focuses on different biomarkers and is driven by software from Fairway-based health IT company Heart To Heart Network LLC.
Another avenue:
Festoff said the company also has identified a drug candidate that treats neuro-inflammation, but has had to table the treatment for now because of a lack of funding.
While the company pursues grant applications, Festoff said the “shoestring operation” will continue to look at alternative avenues for funding.

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