Kick-Starting Bioscience Entrepreneurs with $200K Early-Stage Fund

Iris Gonzalez

October 5, 2018

Proof of concept is a significant milestone in de-risking an idea and attracting additional research development investment.

Proof of concept is a significant milestone in de-risking an idea and attracting additional research development investment.  Since 2015, the President’s Translational and Entrepreneurial Research Fund (PTEF) has been supporting bioscience innovation with early-stage seed funds for projects that have a high probability of being commercialized, but are unlikely to succeed without gap funding. The fund is  seeded annually using endowment earnings from the Stella C. Herff Charitable Trust and the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute (SALSI).  With strong alignment to the institution's strategic initiative of fostering innovation and an entrepreneurial culture among faculty, staff, students, the Office of the President has supported the Vice President for Research, and the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) in this translational research initiative. The projects selected, as a result of the applicant’s successful pitch session were used for specific milestone objectives, such as prototype or software development or market and commercialization feasibility studies.

From a pool of 19 applicants from faculty and staff for PTEF’s 2017-18 cycle, 10 were selected after each team gave a pitch presentation before a review panel of 22 experts from the life sciences and biotech ecosystem. Among the experts were, Terrona CEO, Craig Dionne, Ph.D., and bioAffinity CEO Maria Zannes, J.D., Aaron Ali, M.D. ’00, chief executive officer of MedtoMarket (Austin), and Dana Ono, Ph.D, founding member of MassBio (Boston).

Before proceeding to the competitive pitch-round, OTC’s Business Development Managers reviewed invention disclosures submitted and prepared a technology evaluation and management report assessing potential intellectual property, patent strategy, market size, and prospective industry partners. Each presentation was scored based on the value proposition, clarity of the objective, and level of innovation in a well-conceived, high quality project.

2017-18 PTEF Awards Recipients

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Charlotte Anthony, B.A. marketing specialist senior in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, is the visionary creator of Pipette Kids Science Education Materials for Kids to engage and introduce K-12 students to STEM related careers and topics in various enjoyable interactive ways. Ms. Anthony will seek to further commercialize her portfolio with a start-up company to meet the growing demand for education materials targeting kids. 

Maria Gaczynska, Ph.D., associate professor, and Pawel Osmulski, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of molecular medicine jointly proposed how to specifically kill cancer cells in solid cancers, metastasis of solid cancers, and drug-resistant blood cancers via proteasome inhibitors. These inhibitors may have reduced toxicity, increase life expectancy and improve quality of life.  

Randolph Glickman, Ph.D. professor of ophthalmology and Saher Maswadi, Ph.D., professor of physics and astronomy at UTSA, (and former postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Glickman’s lab) presented their EchoLase Imaging System. This system is based on a probe beam deflection technology (PBDT), which is a laser-based high definition medical ultrasound device offering higher quality imaging at lower costs than medical ultrasound technology currently in use.

Cara Gonzales, D.D.S., Ph.D., '03 associate professor of comprehensive dentistry, proposed a novel capsazepine analog to treat oral cancer. Head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer globally.  If successful in development, this compound would be the first new effective therapy developed in 50 years. Funds were requested to complete toxicity studies in vivo. 

James Lechleiter, Ph.D., professor of cell systems and anatomy, pitched his research on neurodegenerative diseases. He co-founded a drug company based in Cambridge, M.A., Astrocyte Pharmaceuticals, which is focused on breakthrough therapeutic agents for treating Traumatic Brain Injury, as well as other chronic neurodegenerative disorders.

Luiz F. Maracaja, M.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology, presented the Line Guard, an improved design for stopcocks used for drainage on catheter tubing that reduce the chances of contamination, infection, mal-positioning, and medication errors.  Developed with an array of different product solutions, Dr. Maracaja is building on his PTEF 2016 award to further his commercialization milestones.

Robert Mora, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine, pitched the Pulse-Strip, an adhesive strip with sensors to detect and monitor a patient’s pulse accurately and continuously during a potentially fatal 'code' event. Funds were requested for the development of a prototype. 

Ahmed Sabbah, D.D.S., Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of comprehensive dentistry, developed a novel software application (with mobile device integration) for clinical grading in dental school clinics that would reduce errors, streamline grading, and provide better feedback.

Michael Schwirian, database analyst, and Carl Middleton, program analyst, from the department of neurosurgery jointly developed a medical residency assessment tool (RATE) designed to manage and ultimately match the best medical school candidates into residency programs across the country.

Steven G. Venticinque, M.D., interim chair, department of anesthesiology, developed an improved airway management intubation device, Smarter Stylets,that surpasses currently available devices for speed, ease of use, reduced complications and autonomy

John Gebhard, Ph.D.

"Institutional commitment for very early ideation and R&D is incredibly motivating for our faculty and staff, stated John Gebhard, Ph.D., assistant vice president for Office of Technology Commercialization. He added, “funding is critical, but speaking on behalf of the OTC team, it’s extremely rewarding to have highly successful clinicians, like Steve [Venticinque, M.D.] ‘walk the talk’. His passion for improving the standard of care for patients and devoting hours to his already jammed schedule to developing his technology, is admirable. We’re witnessing the impact of his leadership and Ken’s [Hargreaves, D.D.S, Ph.D.], co-chairs of the Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars, for spreading the ‘entrepreneurial bug’. We ended the fiscal year with 61 invention disclosures and 5 start-ups."

-John Gebhard, Ph.D.