Why One Entrepreneur Is Going from the Lab to the Market

Lowry Curley was a sophomore at Clemson University, watching football at his apartment with his roommate, when he suddenly had a seizure. He was rushed to the emergency room and diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain. Curley had to undergo gamma knife radiosurgery, a type of radiation therapy used to treat tumors and other abnormalities in the brain. For two years, he was prescribed anti-seizure medication, which eventually relieved him of the attacks. That was a pivotal moment in his life.

Curley went on to pursue his graduate degree at Tulane University, where he began researching the nervous system. Working closely with his professor and biomedical engineering PhD adviser, he developed a 3D cell-based model that acts and functions like a nerve. The “nerve on a chip” technology helps pharmaceutical researchers eliminate versions of drugs that carry harmful side effects.

In 2014, the two co-founded AxoSim Technologies to bring their technology out of the lab and into the market. According to the most recent estimate, it takes 2.6 billion dollars and up to fifteen years to take a drug from the idea stage to market, according to Curley. And even then, 99% of drugs fail during clinical trials. They hope that AxoSim could help change that.

Now, they’re focusing their efforts on working with pharmaceutical companies to test a drug for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and screening other drugs for side effects. We visited Curley in the lab to learn about his experience going from the lab to market. Here’s what he had to say.

Q: Where are you from?

I’m from the North Shore, and was born and raised on bayou liberty in Slidell.

Q: What’s in your bag right now?

My handy notebook that I take all of my notes in, business cards, a book about sales and revenue growth, and my executive summary. I don’t have any nerves on a chip in there.

Q: What are you watching right now?

I just started re watching Arrested Development.

Q: What do you do to unwind or fight stress?

I play dodge ball, there’s a local league here that I’m in. I’ve found something cathartic about throwing rubber balls at people.

Q: What is your worst habit?

Punctuality. I’m really bad at being where I need to be on time.

Q: What would you be in another life?

I’d be a social psychologist. I’ve always been fascinated by the way people behave in groups.

Q: What’s your spirit animal?

I relate most to dogs. People always say that my dog and I act alike. She’s a mix, German short-haired pointer and chocolate lab. Her name is Dixie. She also likes to run around on the bayou and chase sticks. I enjoy that too.

Q: What are you reading right now?

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It’s about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Q: What were you doing before you started AxoSim?

I was doing research in Belgium at the University of Antwerp. I was there for a year working on neural interfacing and studying how we can communicate with the nervous system in the body, and with prosthetics. I came back to New Orleans and started talking to Dr. Moore, my old PhD advisor. Dr. Moore had been doing the work. We got a grant from Innovation Core Program with the NSF National Science Foundation that helped get us out of our academic shell.

Q: What is your biggest struggle as an entrepreneur?

Resources, time, expertise and capital. We just hired a full-time scientist that. Finding the balance of all the cool things that we could do and focus on what we need to do. Right now, we need to focus on MS.

Q: What motivates you to wake up each morning and do the work you do?

Entrepreneurship is definitely peaks and valleys. I have a mantra and it’s “be better today. Seeing the growth that we’re making day to day and the impact we can potentially make globally. And seeing entrepreneurship growing here in New Orleans and being a part of that is really exciting.