Four UNC startups win KickStart Commercialization Awards

May 21, 2020
By Brock Pierce, Innovate Carolina

Epigenos Biosciences, Enfuego Therapeutics, Enzerna Biosciences, and NabGen Inc. receive funding to turn inventions created at UNC-Chapel Hill into transformative technologies

KickStart Venture Services (KVS) – a core program of Innovate Carolina – has awarded four startup companies with commercialization awards that will enable them to complete high-impact projects as they translate and bring intellectual property and innovations owned by UNC-Chapel Hill to market.

“KickStart provides commercialization awards to companies that show great promise in translating the discoveries they’re making inside Carolina’s academic laboratories into products and services that can improve and save lives,” said Mireya McKee, interim director of KickStart Venture Services. “Thse awards are part of our campuswide effort to find solutions that benefit people outside the university setting.”

The program provides vital early-stage funding for startups from UNC-Chapel Hill. The grant award enables the companies to build prototypes, obtain preliminary data for government grant applications or launch beta programs. These awards are stepping stones that propel companies to be more attractive for funding from grants, angel and venture capital investors.

Four companies were funded through this round of the commercialization award program:

Epigenos Biosciences

Epigenos Biosciences is developing dCas9 Chemical Epigenetic Modifiers (CEM)-based therapies for cancer and rare diseases. They have developed a new platform technology to reversibly use endogenous cellular machinery to activate (or repress) any gene using novel bifunctional molecule sets. The core technology allows epigenetic sculpting with CEMs and is dose dependent and reversible. The technology was developed out of the laboratory of Nate Hathaway, assistant professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Enfuego Therapeutics

Enfuego Therapeutics is a biotech company developing novel RNA interference-(RNAi)-based and antisense oligo therapeutics for “non-druggable” oncogenes such as KRAS. The team has developed therapies that potently bind to mutant KRAS sequences while sparing wild-type KRAS and is optimizing different delivery platforms including ligand-conjugated approaches. Enfuego Therapeutics was founded by Chad Pecot, associate professor at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Enzerna Biosciences

Enzerna Biosciences has developed a proprietary platform technology to engineer sequence-specific RNA endonucleases. It is designed to treat disease by degrading toxic RNA in a programmable way distinct from CRISPR/Cas DNA editing technology. The technology is particularly suited to address nucleotide expansion disorders such as Huntington’s Disease and myotonic dystrophy.  Enzerna Biosciences was founded by Zefeng Wang, associate professor in the pharmacology department at the UNC School of Medicine; Gene Yeo and Jonathan Scolnick.

NabGen Inc.

NabGen Inc. has developed a co-therapy using a novel protein technology to overcome pre-existing immunity and re-administration barriers of gene therapies based on adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors. The treatment targets neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) against the vector. The co-therapy can be administered separately immediately prior to AAV gene therapy delivery, or in formulation with AAV. The company founders are Charles Askew, postdoctoral research associate at the UNC Gene Therapy Center, and Chengwen Li, research associate professor at the UNC Gene Therapy Center.


Founders: Latest Kickstart Commercialization Award Winners


Nate Hathaway
Epigenos Biosciences


Chad Pecot
EnFuego Therapeutics


Zefeng Wang
Enzerna Biosciences


Gene Yeo
Enzerna Biosciences


Jonathan Scolnick
Enzerna Biosciences


Charles Askew
NabGen Inc.


Chengwen Li
NabGen, Inc.

About KickStart Venture Services

KickStart Venture Services (KVS) helps to develop and launch startup companies based on UNC-Chapel Hill intellectual property. To date, 60 companies have received grant award funding from KVS, totaling over $2.2 million since 2010. Previous awardees include companies such as G1 Therapeutics, Spyryx, Cell Microsytems, and Meryx Pharmaceuticals. KVS award-winning startups have gone on to secure close to $60 million in non-dilutive funding and almost $600 million in equity funding.

Funding for the commercialization awards comes from the UNC Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC). OTC is part of the Vice Chancellor’s Office of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Development (IEED), which is also known as Innovate Carolina, the University-wide initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship.  Innovate Carolina works with people at UNC-Chapel Hill to move a greater number of valuable ideas into the world faster, where they can make the greatest social and economic impact possible.