Located in Columbia, Mo., Tensive Controls is a biomedical startup company specializing in the modification of peptide compounds to behave better as drug molecules. Peptides are small chains of amino acids that can perform various tasks in living organisms, from people to puppies.

The story of Tensive began when founder Dr. Ken Gruber became disappointed that a class of peptide compounds with great potential in health care, particularly in the cancer field, failed to perform well as new drugs when being developed by large pharmaceutical companies.

The new drugs produced very adverse cardiovascular side effects, cutting off future development of that class of compounds. Gruber believed he could fix this problem, and Tensive Controls was born.

Originally started in North Carolina in 2009, the company was attracted to Mid-Missouri’s agricultural and bioscience scene and established its labs and operating staff in the MU Life Science Business Incubator at Monsanto Place.

The company’s main goal is to use its patented technology platform for modifying peptides to create a drug that can reverse cachexia in cancer subjects. Cachexia is a wasting disease commonly seen in cancer patients that can cause extreme weight loss, muscle atrophy, weakness, and fatigue.

Tensive is working on advancing its drug for cachexia, which has promise for both humans and pets. A canine clinical trial is currently progressing at the University of Missouri, Colorado State University, and a nationwide network of veterinary hospital.

Dogs with cancer are volunteered by their owners. Treated dogs have regained their body condition, restored activity levels, and experienced an overall improvement in quality and length of life.

Tensive CEO Jake Halliday said the drug will be ready for human clinical trials in 2018.

In addition to the cachexia-reversing drug, the company’s pipeline of peptide drug candidates also includes weight gain products for farm animals as well as an array of new antibiotics.

A note from MTC Director Bill Anderson

“Missouri’s agricultural and animal health industries continue to grow and experience great success, and it is innovative companies like Tensive Controls that help make that possible. Tensive has already accomplished so much, and we are looking forward to seeing what other contributions it will make to our state’s animal health and bioscience sectors.”

MTC Executive Director Bill Anderson

Tensive Controls has made outstanding scientific progress, and investors like the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC) have played a crucial role in its success.

Thanks to an IDEA funds co-investment of $175,000 from MTC, Tensive was able to raise a total of $350,000 in its initial round of funding.

Halliday said the role of MTC has been extremely helpful to the company, especially at its earliest stage of development when capital was the least available.

“The investment program at the Missouri Technology Corporation has been very important to our company,” he said. “It doubled, literally doubled, the amount of capital available to us at that critical stage.”

Halliday added that other investors are faster to write a check when they know that MTC is involved, doubling the leverage of the investment and the amount the companies receive.

The initial investment from MTC was very strategic for Tensive, putting the startup in a position to grow and raise additional capital. In June of 2016, the company closed on a $1.7 million round of funding.

“The initial investment by MTC was key to reaching the point where we can command that level of investment,” Halliday said.

Tensive Controls has not only increased its capital but also the size of its team. Initially comprised of only two team members, the startup has since hired a lab director and a manager of product commercialization.

As for the future, Tensive plans to continue innovating right here in the Show-Me State and contributing to Missouri’s ever-growing animal and bioscience sectors.

“We will continue to be in Columbia, Missouri, and we’ll continue to innovate,” Halliday said, “and the wealth created by our technologies as they’re licensed will likely be reinvested in the life science industry of Missouri.”