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Tucson Tech: UA-focused venture fund invests in aircraft missile-defense startup
Tucson Tech

Tucson Tech: UA-focused venture fund invests in aircraft missile-defense startup

A University of Arizona-focused venture capital fund has invested in an optics startup developing laser-based countermeasures to protect military and civilian aircraft from missiles.

UAVenture Capital’s undisclosed investment in CMLaser Technologies Inc. is the fund’s 15th portfolio investment in just over two years.

Based on an invention of longtime UA optics professor Nasser Peyghambarian and patented by the UA, CMLaser Technologies Inc. intends to commercialize laser-based countermeasures capable of detecting and defeating missile attacks.

The size of the UAVenture fund’s investment in CMLaser was not disclosed, but the fund’s investments have averaged about $2 million each, fund co-founder and CEO Fletcher McCusker said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, six of UAVenture Capital’s 15 portfolio companies are based on UA-developed optics technologies, including EARDG Photonics, a company co-founded by Peyghambarian that has developed “augmented reality” eyeglasses that superimposes video on a user’s real-world view.

“We have seen lots of opportunities in optics,” McCusker said, noting that the UA’s Wyant College of Optical Sciences is among the highest rated optics schools in the nation.

CMLaser is just the latest venture for Peyghambarian, who is chair of photonics and lasers at the UA and a professor of materials science as well as optics.

NP Photonics, a company Peyghambarian founded in 1998, makes specialty optical fiber lasers and draws its own proprietary glass fibers at its headquarters at the UA Tech Park on South Rita Road.

UA President Robert C. Robbins called Peyghambarian “a true superstar” in a statement announcing the investment.

“The Wyant College of Optical Sciences has an incredibly strong tradition of innovation in technologies that contribute to our national security and public safety,” Robbins said.

Major defense contractors have been making onboard aircraft missile-defense systems for decades. So-called directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) use directed pulses of energy to confuse or jam the seekers in heat-seeking infrared missiles.

Northrop Grumman makes laser-based DIRCM systems and says it has installed 1,500 such systems on more than 80 types of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft.

Peyghambarian said Northrop's system is based on a solid-state laser, which is complicated and bulky to fabricate but is the current standard.

"Our approach is based on fiber laser technology which is robust, rugged and less expensive," Peyghambarian said, adding that he hopes CMLaser's technology becomes the new standard.

AZCERT aiding COVID-19 effort

A Tucson-based drug-safety organization is making a key medication-safety tool available for free to help guide medical providers battling COVID-19.

The Arizona Center for Education and Research on Therapeutics (AZCERT), a nonprofit founded and led by former UA College of Medicine Dean Dr. Raymond Woosley, is making its MedSafety Scan web-based decision support system, available free to medical professionals around the world, especially those treating high risk COVID-19 patients.

MedSafety Scan can warn health-care providers when their patients are prescribed drugs that place them at high risk of developing a potentially lethal cardiac arrhythmia known as torsades de pointes, or TdP. The tool also checks for potentially dangerous drug interactions and suggests options for how to monitor patients and reduce their risk of harm.

Several of the medications now being tested or prescribed for COVID-19 — including chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin — can cause TdP, which, although rare, occurs more often in patients with medical conditions that are commonly found in very ill COVID-19 patients, Woosley said.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at dwichner@tucson.com or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz

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