An innovative cardiovascular start-up, HDAX Therapeutics, is the latest company to win $250,000 in funding following another year of the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research’s Entrepreneurship for Cardiovascular Health Opportunities (ECHO) program.

The ECHO program was launched in 2018 and provides start-ups focused on cardiovascular inventions and technology with 12 months of entrepreneurship training, mentorship, and networking to help launch and grow their ventures. The program is run through the Translational Biology and Engineering Program at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research (TRCHR) and the University of Toronto in partnership with the Health Innovation Hub (H2i).

After completing the 12-month program, six of the top ventures were selected to compete for a prize of $250,000 that can be used to fund the growth of their company. This year’s event took place on October 12, 2023 at the MaRS Discovery District in front of a panel of five judges and a live audience of over 200 people.

Winner of the 2023 Competition

Following a fierce and engaging competition, the judges announced HDAX Therapeutics, a next-generation molecular technology company focused on developing small-molecule HDAC6-selective inhibitors, as the winner of the event. The company began in 2016 as a result of work in Dr. Patrick Gunning’s lab at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. Founded by Drs. Nabanita Nawar and Pimyupa Manaswiyoungkul, who met while completing their PhDs, HDAX Therapeutics uses a novel two-site binding modality which allows for reversing disease phenotypes caused by abnormal HDAC6 activity.

HDAC6, or Histone Deacetylase 6, is an enzyme that belongs to the histone deacetylase family. Despite its name, HDAC6 is actually a cytoplasmic lysine deacetylase which regulates biological functions including cellular transport, cytoskeleton dynamics, misfolded protein clearance, and immunomodulation. Unlike other enzymes that modify histones, HDAC6 works on different targets in the body, and blocking or removing it has been proven to be safe through extensive research and clinical evidence. However, abberant HDAC6 has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, including arrythmia, infarction, and chronic heart failure, among others. HDAX Therapeutics aims to advance its HDAC6 inhibitors with a unique two-site binding mechanism to deliver protection against worsening conditions and improve heart function by reducing the physical changes that drives heart diseases.

Nawar spoke of the future of HDAX and the potential impact of their technology. “It’s still early to know exactly when HDAX might be used in the heart failure progression timeline for patients, but the technology has the ability to modify heart failure mechanisms and help prevent the condition from progressing further.” With about 64 million people globally1 with a heart failure diagnosis and an aging population, the potential for this technology is large.

Founders of HDAX Therapeutics presenting their pitch to the audience

The Impact of the ECHO Program on HDAX Therapeutics

When asked about the ECHO program, Nawar spoke of the rigour of the topics covered and the benefits for those who are new to business. “It was an overall great experience. It was very useful for a first-time founding team of scientists-turned-entrepreneurs because it laid a great foundation for the entrepreneurial side of things.”  

All six competing innovations were given 10 minutes to explain their idea to a diverse judging panel that spanned cardiovascular researchers, clinicians, investors, entrepreneurs, and patient partners*. “The Q&A section of the pitch really allowed the judges to ask questions to understand every aspect of the company. It was tough, but the questions ensured all areas were covered.”

HDAX Therapeutics plans to use their winnings to begin proof-of-concept testing with animal models, as well as work towards drug candidate nomination, which is expected to take two to three years.

* The judging panel consisted of:

Dozie Amuzie, DVM, PhD, DACVP, DABT
Head, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS Canada

Jacki Jenuth, PhD
Partner, Lumira Ventures

Naheed Kurji, MBA
President, Recursion Canada

Heather Cartwright
President, Power Ten Investments Ltd.

Seema Mital, MD, FACC, FAHA, FRCPC
Scientific Lead, Cardiac Precision Medicine Program
Professor of Pediatrics, University of Toronto
Staff Cardiologist and Head of Cardiovascular Research, Hospital for Sick Children
Senior Scientist, SickKids Research Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada Chair in Cardiovascular Science


  1. Savarese G, Becher PM, Lund LH, Seferovic P, Rosano GMC, Coats AJS. Global burden of heart failure: a comprehensive and updated review of epidemiology. Cardiovasc Res. 2023 Jan 18;118(17):3272-3287. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvac013. Erratum in: Cardiovasc Res. 2023 Jun 13;119(6):1453. PMID: 35150240

All event photography by Neil Ta.