VCU muscle-loss startup picks up funding for “scaffolding” tech

September 2023

A VCU biomedical engineer is on a mission to better repair muscle injuries, and today has a bit
more funding to help him achieve it.

Michael McClure, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of
Biomedical Engineering, was this summer awarded $75,000 by the Virginia Innovation
Partnership Corp. to pursue a new method of repairing muscle loss and tears. His intellectual
property is also the basis of a startup, Sarcogenics.

At the McClure Lab in Richmond, the team is developing a collagen-based muscle “scaffolding”
from human cadavers to repair damaged muscles in patients with muscle and tendon injuries.
The cadaver muscle is decellularized, meaning cells are washed away, leaving only a biologic
substance called a muscle matrix — which establishes a scaffold for cells to use. The idea is the
“decellularized muscle matrix” scaffolding can be placed into the injured patient, and new tissue
and muscle will be regenerated around it.

Originally, McClure was focused on treating common rotator cuff injuries in the shoulder, a
condition where tendon and muscle separate. However, VCU TechTransfer and Ventures’
Entrepreneurs-in-Residence brought to McClure a rotator cuff specialist, who cautioned the
researcher that the rotator-cuff market had barriers to entry.

“While we are still targeting the rotator cuff, we are also considering other muscle-loss injuries
that aren’t as common or as difficult a market to break into,” McClure says.

The global tissue engineering market was estimated at $14.83 billion in 2022 and is anticipated
to grow more than 14% by 2030, according to Grand View Research.

“Dr. McClure’s approach to muscle repair offers promising solutions to the growing tissue
engineering market and has the potential to revolutionize muscle regeneration,” says Brittaney
Ritchie, VCU TechTransfer and Ventures’ medical device licensing manager. The VIPC funding
will be used to continually test the muscle matrix, and identify a “predicate model” — a similar,
but different product already FDA approved and available to surgeons — to help de-risk
McClure’s invention, improving larger funding opportunities.

In addition to VIPC, McClure’s work is funded by the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation,
VCU, and regenerative medicine company Cook MyoSite. In the past, McClure’s work was
backed with $500,000 from the Department of Defense. He hopes to secure additional DoD
funds and others from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health.

McClure’s own interest in the field stems from his post-doctorate years treating muscle injuries
in veterans at the Central Virginia VA Health Care System.

“Muscle is a passion of mine. If this was any other type of company — say, skin grafts — I
would probably not have the passion and vision to do it,” he said. “But because of my
experience at the VA, and seeing all the different injuries, that was a big motivator for me from
the very start.”

By the way: McClure’s company, Sarcogenics, is related to the term sarcopenia, the
progressive loss of muscle due to age. Age plays a significant role in injury severity and a role in
surgical success. In rotator cuff surgeries in particular, almost 50% of surgeries re-tear within a
12-month period. Part of the goal of the research team’s scaffolding material is to improve
surgical success in patients with advanced age.