Going with a Gut Feeling

When the Chicago Tribune recently asked Congressman Brad Schneider to comment on the wave of biotech startups growing at Rosalind Franklin University’s Helix 51 incubator, he called Lake County “the home of the nation’s life science corridor.” Senator Tammy Duckworth echoed his enthusiasm, noting “it’s no surprise we’ve seen this incubator grow and thrive…This incubator and research park will only continue to make Lake County a leader, not only in our state but the entire region of biomedical research and innovation.”

Judging from the recent success at the incubator and the business growth happening more broadly across the county, the excitement is justified.

With 122 life science businesses (including some of the world’s largest) and an employment base of more than 33,000, Lake County is the proud home of the largest life sciences cluster in the Midwest. A slew of globally-recognized headquarters and cutting-edge startups, coupled with a strong educational support system, have made Lake County a hotbed of innovation. Local talent is fueling life science industry growth and advancing groundbreaking technologies that stand to revolutionize the way that illness is treated and medicine is practiced.

Nowhere is that better seen than at Rosalind Franklin University’s Helix 51 incubator. In the past six months alone, the incubator has signed on five new tenants – all of whom were looking to leverage Lake County’s resources and proximity to industry leaders. A key selling point of the facility and its location is the 15-minute drive time to many global powerhouses: Abbott and AbbVie in North Chicago, Baxter, Horizon and Lundbeck in Deerfield, and Pfizer in Lake Forest.

“Budding entrepreneurs do not have to be in downtown Chicago or another big city to access talent, innovation and cutting-edge spaces. You can find the building blocks of a successful business right here in Lake County, and we’re eager to help you put together the pieces and grow,” said Dr. Ronald Kaplan, EVP of Research at Rosalind Franklin University.

Many of the startups are strategically using their time at Helix 51 to forge connections, seek investments and acquire necessary approvals to advance to the next stage of development.


Covira is a biotech company spun out from the University of Chicago that develops drugs to modulate the gut microbiome. Its lead asset is focused on the prevention of post-surgical infections. Covira is productively using its time at Helix 51 to prepare for its next capital raise of $15 million needed to complete Phase 1 and Phase 2 of human clinical trials. The company projects that the FDA approval process could take 4 – 5 years to complete.

“We are really at the cutting-edge of microbiome research, and our work stands to prevent both the incidence and progression of post-surgical infection and its subsequent development of disability and mortality. Our team is led by Dr. John Alverdy, MD, a world authority in this field whose knowledge led us to be named one of the top twenty most innovative companies by Business Worldwide Magazine,” said Covira Surgical CEO Peter Farmakis. “We chose Helix 51 because we know that Lake County is the heart of the nation’s life science corridor. Here, we will be able to find the additional talent and investors that we need to successfully achieve Covira’s growth objectives.”

A recent company profile by Business Worldwide Magazine commended Covira, noting that its approach of using cutting-edge innovation to amplify the body’s natural protective capabilities and help it resist complications is incredibly unique. Covira is harnessing the power of the body’s gut microbiome—something that many researchers and medical professionals now understand is critical to overall health and well-being. Importantly, they are taking note of the way that the technology develops compounds that maintain and enhance a patient’s microbiome instead of adding onto, eliminating or replacing it.

With over 230 million surgeries performed worldwide every year, the work that Covira is doing couldn’t be any more timely or important. Despite advances in infection control practices, post-surgical infections remain a substantial cause of prolonged hospitalization, readmissions, morbidity and can lead to life-threatening sepsis or death. Preventing the extreme outcomes and saving lives is the driving force behind Covira’s mission.

Though the science behind the scenes is complex, Covira’s ecologically sustainable approach is relatively simple in practice. A patient mixes and drinks a tasteless, odorless and non-toxic solution before and after surgery; the oral solution coats the patient’s digestive tract and preserves the health-promoting gut microbiome while at the same time preventing the virulence (harmfulness) of pathogens that might proliferate during and after surgery. Covira sees their orally delivered medication as complementary to current surgical best practices in concert with other important infection control mechanisms such as prophylactic antibiotics, instrument sterilization, surgical technique, and proper ventilation.

Covira sees a gap in the market for their technology, and is preparing to fill it. The team is currently focused on filing an Investigational New Drug (IND) application and initiating phase 1 of its human clinical trials. From there, the company will then commence phase 2 of human clinical trials, with a target FDA approval of 2026. They have already secured one patent for their work, and have two additional patents pending.

The company has seen such initial success because of its leadership, largely bolstered by the deep life science talent bench found in Lake County and the broader Chicago metro. Covira’s team has extensive experience in business operations, including the recent addition to Covira’s Board of Directors – retired Abbott Laboratories Executive Officer Jaime Contreras.

In addition, Covira’s strong research and development team is supported by a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) comprised of world-leading experts that bring a diversified set of experiences from top-rated hospitals and medical schools across the country. Covira’s SAB includes expertise in transplant surgery, bioengineering, host-microbe interactions, colon and rectal surgery, infectious disease, microbiome, molecular engineering, and polymer chemistry. The team can also lean on its business partners that includes a roster of well-known groups including the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, Argonne National Laboratory, the Polsky Center at The University of Chicago, Smart Health Catalyzer, Creative Destruction Lab and many others.

It’s this level of expertise that resulted in a recent invitation to present the company’s findings at the American Surgical Association’s 142nd meeting in Chicago. The American Surgical Association is the oldest surgical society in the U.S. and the most prestigious in the world. At its annual gathering in Chicago this year, Dr. John Alverdy, Covira’s Founder & Chief Scientific Officer was able to share the results of his team’s revolutionary research.

“There was an incredible undercurrent of excitement at the conference, and we were honored to have our ideas received so warmly by experts from across the country,” said Dr. Alverdy. “It’s gratifying to know that, from Lake County, Illinois, Covira Surgical will have a global impact.


Covira Surgical is one of many companies working with Lake County Partners to grow, as there are many reasons why life science companies thrive in Lake County. Connect with us here to see how we can help your business grow in Lake County, Illinois.