A new antibacterial gel able to stop bleeding in seconds that was developed by a company founded and fostered at the University of Maryland is now available through Amazon and at drugstores around the country.

Rapid-Seal, the first commercially available consumer product from Medcura Inc., uses a proprietary modification of chitosan, a nontoxic, biodegradable biopolymer found in the shells of crustaceans and certain plants, to seal minor cuts and scrapes while preventing harmful bacteria from growing. It’s an invention of company co-founder Matthew Dowling Ph.D. ’10, who started research on the material as a bioengineering student in the A. James Clark School of Engineering in the lab of Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Srinivasa Raghavan.

Medcura has since expanded Dowling’s work into a platform for a variety of potential products including bandages for vascular closure; foams, powders and putties for combat injuries; and gels such as Rapid-Seal.

“Our platform has great inherent flexibility, allowing us to precisely engineer materials for a given injury,” said Dowling, chief scientific officer and director of Medcura. “Rapid-Seal is the first of many high-performance, easy-to-use tools we are developing to address almost any injury that requires bleeding management—whether planned, as in surgery, or unplanned, as in accidents or combat.”

While at Maryland, Dowling and Raghavan engineered the advanced chitosan material into a format that rapidly stopped bleeding. Early on, they partnered with John Hess, then a professor of pathology and medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center and former U.S. Army doctor who the company calls instrumental in guiding their focus on bleeding control. Hess introduced them to Grant Bochicchio, then professor of surgery at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, who helped the team test its product for closing vascular injuries.

Dowling and Raghavan applied for a patent with Hess and Bochicchio that won a University of Maryland Office of Technology Commercialization Invention of the Year Award in the Life Sciences category.

The company Dowling formed around his invention received initial research and development funding from the Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program. That supported studies funded by further grants from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research program, the Maryland Biotechnology Center and the Air Force Medical Assistance Program. 

Medcura then entered Mtech Ventures, an incubator of the Clark School’s Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) designed to help innovators build successful companies around technology-based innovations created at the University of Maryland.

In 2016, the company hired Larry Tiffany, a serial life science entrepreneur and former executive at Gene Logic, followed by a $3.1 million initial round of financing that was led by early-stage investment funds and life science investors, including the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and UM Ventures. In 2017, Medcura received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance for use of its advanced bandage for prescription and over-the-counter uses.

Larger grants followed, including $3.4 million from the U.S. Army Medical Research & Medical Command to develop an implantable solution for prolonged field care. That solution, called LifeFoam, was awarded “breakthrough device” status by the FDA for the treatment of severe, internal, life-threatening hemorrhaging on the battlefield. 

In 2020, Medcura moved into the University of Maryland Discovery District, which offers flexible research and development space for growing ventures. “The Discovery District was perfect for us,” Tiffany said. “Working in collaboration with Ken Ulman and his team at Terrapin Development, we were able to quickly scale the manufacturing of our core active ingredient to meet consumer demand.”

From its founding through the research and development phase all the way to its entry into the nationwide retail market, the company shows UMD’s potential to nurture startups, said Chief Innovation Officer Julie Lenzer.

“Medcura is a shining example of the power of research to drive innovation, as well as of our ecosystem to translate that research into impact,” she said.

The company’s future plans include products for use in surgery and a powder that can be delivered onto external traumatic injuries as a spray.

“We are at the cusp of our corporate arc,” said Tiffany. “By leveraging the foundation created in the UMD Clark School of Engineering, we plan to change the way bleeding is managed—from the backyard to the battlefield.”