Entrepreneurial PhD Candidate Wins Innovation Award

Jordan Despanie, USC School of Pharmacy PhD candidate and bioentrepreneur

Jordan Despanie, a fourth-year Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD candidate, won second place in the Innovation Prize competition at the Annual Entrepreneurship Summit hosted by Biotech Connection Los Angeles on June 11.

In the lab of Andrew MacKay, Gavin Herbert Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Despanie develops nanomedicines to combat triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive disease that disproportionately affects those of African and Hispanic descent and currently has no targeted treatment.

In addition to his work in MacKay’s lab, Despanie is founder and chief scientific officer of S-aima Biopharmaceutics, an early-stage biotech company focused on pioneering a first-in-class, blood-substitute nanomedicine for treatment of hemorrhagic shock, which results from excessive blood loss on battlefields and during civilian emergencies.

Despanie was among 14 participants selected to make a two-minute presentation at the Innovation Prize competition. He and Joshua Guss (USC Leventhal ’14), S-aima Biopharmaceutics’ finance manager, described the potential to revolutionize blood transfusions and trauma medicine through the company’s hemoglobin-based oxygen nanocarrier, which will be storable at various temperatures, is compatible with any blood type and will ultimately facilitate emergency transfusions.

The second-place Innovation Prize came with $50,000 in legal assistance from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

“It was definitely a rewarding moment,” says Despanie, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, who founded S-aima Biopharmaceutics with a team of investors and advisors three years ago. “Entrepreneurship is a difficult path. To receive validation is of course very gratifying — it supercharges your desire to push forward. You need those milestones along the way to keep you incentivized and engaged.”