A White Plains-Based Biotech Company Helps People Speak Again

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Founded by a brother-and-sister duo, Laronix aims to help throat cancer survivors with advanced biotechnology in Westchester.

Throat cancer survivors have the second highest suicide rate of all cancer survivors. 

When Dr. Farzaneh Ahmadi was conducting her academic research in the field at Western Sydney University in Australia, she became increasingly motivated to find a solution to help survivors speak again. 

She developed Bionic Voice, a wearable, high-quality prosthesis for laryngectomees. People who have had all of their larynx removed due to having throat cancer face the reality of never being able to speak again. However, a voice prosthesis is the most common way to restore speech after therapy. Unlike some alternatives, the Bionic Voice is non-invasive to the body and naturally controlled during speech by respiration. It’s generated by a smart algorithm and can be trained to reach a voice quality resembling the patient’s own. 

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“We work with patients every day and see their experience of going from completely voiceless to regaining their voice, saying simple sentences and then quickly starting conversations with family members,” says Dr. Mousa Ahmadi, Dr. Farzaneh Ahmadi’s brother. “The first thing they do say is that they love their family. It’s very inspirational for us. Every time we work with patients, we get more motivated to keep going.”

The U.S.-based location of Laronix was originally in Brooklyn. In August 2022, the Ahmadis moved it to White Plains. 

“The idea was that we would get many contacts with clinicians, collaborators, and investors in Brooklyn,” Mousa explains. “What we saw very quickly was that Brooklyn was oversaturated in terms of companies and startups and entrepreneurs there. Westchester turned out to be the area we were interested in. We quickly got many introductions here. The amount of connections we got in White Plains in two months were way more than the entire number of connections that we got in Brooklyn over the entire year.”

In Westchester County, Laronix is a part of the Westchester Innovation Network, “a proven, multifaceted program from the Business Council of Westchester designed to create an environment within Westchester County, NY that pairs innovative products and services with local organizations to test and learn about emerging technologies in a variety of industries.” 

The company, made up of less than 15 people between the U.S. and Australia, is also a part of the Westchester County Biosciences Accelerator, the first and only competitive-entry, six-month program of personalized entrepreneurial education delivered for first-time founders of bioscience ventures of any development stage focused on healthcare innovation in Westchester.

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“We help other companies navigate their way through their journey,” notes Mousa. “At the same time, we see that those companies come back and choose Westchester County as their home. Together we bring this environment up. That’s something we’re very proud of.”

Heading into biotech was important for the Ahmadis. While the industry might be intimidating in the beginning, there are a number of opportunities within it, as the success of Laronix proves. 

“We have seen that when we are creating technologies that are effective and address the solutions, very quickly you get a lot of gratification out of that too,” Mousa says. “When we provide our device to one patient that didn’t have a voice for 10, 20, 30 years and they speak again, I don’t think there is any other kind of technology that brings that kind of inspiration or motivation.”

Mousa says this industry is perfect for anyone who is interested in creating impactful technology and is open to innovation and collaboration. While both of the Ahmadis have advanced degrees, Mousa says that it’s not mandatory for a job in the field, but at least a four-year degree is. They work with college grads who are interested in learning, a key skill for anyone looking to enter the field without an advanced degree. 

“They have the inspiration and motivation that we have in mind,” Mousa says of the grads. “They work with us very closely and they quickly learn the ropes. You learn from clinicians, who are also very open to collaboration and teaching people the way of doing things. As long as folks are interested in learning and being engaged with other people, that’s more than enough.” 

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