Researchers improving the efficiency of bone graft procedures, developing drugs to address treatment-resistant cancer, and advancing research to reverse the invasive potential of cancerous cells will receive a total of $600,000 from the University City Science Center’s QED Proof-of-Concept Program. The program, started in 2009 and now in its tenth round of funding, supports novel university technologies with market potential, bridging the gap between academic research and product commercialization. The awardees were selected from a pool of 54 applicants from 12 academic and research institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
The QED grants will support researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology, Temple University and The Wistar Institute. Each team will receive $200,000, half of which will be contributed by the Science Center and half by the researchers’ institutions. Each project will also receive guidance from the Science Center’s experienced team of scientific and business advisors.
Round 10 awardees:
Treena Arinzeh, Ph.D., of the New Jersey Institute of Technology is reducing recovery time and cost associated with bone grafting procedures. Roughly half of the million orthopedic procedures performed in the U.S. each year for reconstructive surgery, trauma, or abnormal skeletal defects include bone grafting. In addition to a limited supply, current bone grafts and graft substitutes can result in poor bone healing and other adverse effects. Dr. Arinzeh has developed a bioactive composite matrix which serves as a bone graft substitute that can be used alone or in combination with a patient’s own bone marrow to repair bone defects. The technology deploys a unique synthetic matrix that can be used as an autograft extender allowing improved cell attachment, bone ingrowth, and bone formation. This is the first QED award for NJIT.
Maureen Murphy, Ph.D., of The Wistar Institute is advancing new treatments for therapy-resistant melanoma by focusing on the mitochondria essential to the growth of cancer cells. The research uses a novel series of compounds that specifically inhibit mitochondrial HSP70 protein. Dr. Murphy has found that HSP70 inhibitors can be used to target a subset of melanomas harboring mutations in the NRAS gene, which cause normal cells to become cancerous and resistant to therapy. Because HSP70 is abundant in mitochondria of cancer cells, but not in mitochondria of normal cells, the HSP70 inhibitors impair mitochondrial metabolism and energy production exclusively in cancer cells and are therefore effective anti-cancer agents. This is the first QED award for The Wistar Institute.
Jean-Pierre Issa, M.D., of Temple University has discovered a series of new compounds that help rewire gene expression patterns and reverse the invasive potential of cancerous cells. This research will aid in the treatment of malignancies and potentially breast cancer, prolonging the lives of patients. QED funding will allow Dr. Issa to continue research on cyclin-dependent kinase 9 protein and perform key safety and efficacy experiments to help bring these drugs to the clinic.
“The QED process has been an invaluable experience,” says first-time awardee, Treena Arinzeh, Ph.D. of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Dr. Arinzeh was previously a finalist in Rounds Five and Six of the QED program. “The most beneficial aspect of the process is working with the business advisors in determining the market opportunity and a strategy towards commercialization. These activities help to define the next steps in developing the technology.”
In addition to the three funded projects, eight additional early-stage life science and healthcare projects received critical support in developing their proof-of-concept plans: Leslie Dutton of University of Pennsylvania; Eon Soo Lee of New Jersey Institute of Technology; Peter Lelkes of Temple University; Patricia McLaughlin of Penn State College of Medicine; Prabhas Moghe of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Elias Rizk of Penn State College of Medicine; Charles Roth of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; and Paul Stauffer of Thomas Jefferson University.
The 11 QED finalists received customized coaching from industry experts, exposure to the investment community and support to develop a commercialization funding roadmap. This support armed the researchers with the knowledge and tools needed to pursue follow-on funding that will help their early-stage projects advance along the commercialization pathway.
Since the program’s inception in 2009, QED has screened over 600 proposals from 21 participating academic and research institutions. Of the technologies screened, 105 projects have been accepted into the competitive program. Projects awarded funding by the QED program have raised over $22 million in follow-on funding.
“In the nine years since the program launched, QED has awarded over $6 million to 34 projects” says Wenyong Wang, Ph.D., MBA, Vice President of Science & Technology at the University City Science Center. “Among these projects, 10 technologies have been licensed and eight companies have been launched, demonstrating the value of the research taking place in academic labs that is too often left without the resources to commercialize.”
QED has received support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, and Wexford Science and Technology.