Scaffolding in place for a startup with immense health impact

Michael McClure, Ph.D. knows a lot about treating muscle injuries.

But how about forming a company? “Not much,” says the assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. “That’s why I have a lot of support.” His company, Sarcogenics, is one of the 10 startups born out of VCU in 2022 with guidance from VCU TechTransfer and Ventures. Dating back to his post-doc days, McClure has studied muscle loss and regeneration and in recent years honed in on treating a common muscle injury: the shoulder’s rotator cuff.

Patients with rotator cuff injuries lose the “bridge” between the muscle and tendon, McClure explains, hindering their ability to complete simple tasks and limiting their range of motion. In McClure’s lab, he and the team have developed a collagen-based scaffolding material from the webbing that surround muscle cells. The scaffold can be used to bridge that gap, reconnecting muscle and tendon and even regenerating new tissue. They’d originally used technology from an outside company, but the scaffolding was for tendons, not muscles. So, McClure built and is evolving his own proprietary muscle-specific scaffolds.

“Since we started developing our own material, I was geared toward forming a startup,” McClure says. He formed a LLC, and is looking at ways to raise money to get the technology cleared by the FDA and into the hands of surgeons.

Working under a $500,000 U.S. Department of Defense grant and an award from TechTransfer and Ventures’ Commercialization Fund, McClure is improving the quality and characteristics of the scaffolding, and gaining a better understanding of how a human body will fare when the technology is implanted.

McClure has tested the scaffolds using stem cells and in vivo. The results? “We’ve seen significant regeneration,” he says.

“There are other muscle scaffolds out there, but they miss the key ingredients Michael has used. This could be the first of many types of muscular scaffolds to come from the McClure lab,” says Gerard Eldering, TechTransfer and Ventures’ Entrepreneur-in-Residence. “If Michael is right about the science and the business is executed well, this could make a huge impact on the world.”

Indeed, for McClure, an athlete himself who played baseball in college (where rotator cuff injuries are common), fixing the shoulder is only the start.

“I’m passionate about healing any muscle injury or disease that exists because of the devastating functional losses these patients experience,” McClure says. “You could have an injury so bad that you can’t play golf anymore, or throw a ball with your son or daughter. Or injuries to the legs, where you can barely walk or climb stairs. This is about providing basic human function, to help somebody get back to a more normal lifestyle from whatever happened to them.”