Success Stories and New Frontiers

The Catalyst program is proud to announce several exciting initiatives and developments, including:


ViewPoint Therapeutics logoViewPoint Therapeutics is a California biotechnology startup established in 2014 by UCSF Professor Jason E. Gestwicki, PhD, and his former student Leah Makley, PhD. With guidance and support from UCSF’s Catalyst Program, their scientific discovery at UCSF has been transformed into promising drug development towards the treatments for presbyopia and cataracts, leading causes of vision loss and blindness worldwide. Dr. Makley is now running the startup company as President and Chief Scientific Officer at [email protected], and Dr. Gestwicki serves as the scientific advisor while continues his research at UCSF.  As of mid 2017, ViewPoint Therapeutics has raised seed and Series A funding rounds totaling more than $4 million. Their success story is surely inspiring to many translational researchers to accelerate the progress from discovery to patient care. The Catalyst Program is here to help! 

Vanda Pharmaceuticals’ announcement in March that it would pay $1 million, and as much as $46 million in potential development, regulatory and sales milestones as well as royalties on net sales should a product be commercializedThe company licensed technology to develop and commercialize a portfolio of Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) activators and inhibitors developed in the lab of UCSF’s Alan Verkman, MD, PhD, and nurtured by Catalyst. Article


Scott Baraban, PhD, and Joseph Sullivan, MD, in the UCSF Epilepsy Research Laboratory, where Baraban is using zebrafish to aid drug discovery. Photo by Steve Babuljak
Scott Baraban, PhD, & Joseph Sullivan, MD, in the UCSF Epilepsy Research Laboratory, where Baraban is using zebrafish to aid drug discovery.Photo by Steve Babuljak

Scott Baraban, PhD, professor of neurological surgery, had won a Catalyst award for his work showing the efficacy of testing certain drugs in zebrafish, and this year demonstrated the strategy’s success in a clinical trial. In that trial, children with Dravet syndrome, a rare and devastating genetic form of epilepsy that can cause hundreds of seizures per day, responded to the same medication that tested well in zebrafish. Baraban has been working with postdoc Aliesha Griffin, PhD, a former Catalyst intern. 




Prepare website ​Another Catalyst awardee, Rebecca Sudore, MD, won a $650,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for integrating easy-to-read, culturally-appropriate, evidenced-based advance directives for all US states into the PREPARE website



Tippi MacKenzie
Tippie MacKenzie, MD, photo by Cindy Chew.

Under a $12.1 million grant, Tippi MacKenzie at the University of California San Francisco will develop a stem cell therapy to treat alpha-thalassemia major, a fetal blood disorder that is usually fatal. The therapy consists of bone marrow-derived hematopoietic stem cells from the mother transplanted into the baby before birth.


UC CAI Success Stories

Charle Chiu, MD
Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, & Steve Miller, MD, PhD, use a DNA sequencing machine. Photo by Elisabeth Fall

Previous Catalyst and UC CAI awardee Prof. Charles Chiu, MD PhD,  co-founder of the Center for Next Gen Precision Diagnostics has been a key driver in the development of a genome sequencing test now approved for clinical use. The test can be used for diagnosing mysterious cases of neurological infection in acutely ill patients. Read more.
See related article in Time/Health.


New Frontiers

Credit: Elena Zhukova

Catalyst is helping establish the University of California Drug Discovery Consortium, an effort across the UC system’s five medical campuses—UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCSF, UCLA & UC San Diego—to figure out ways to work together to speed the development of potentially life-saving therapies. Tralau-Stewart is principal investigator on a  $2.2 million, three-year grant from UC’s Multicampus Research Programs & Initiatives focusing on early translation of academic discovery research into therapies.


Catalyst plans to expand its program to Catalyst Plus, a new addition that aims to provide additional support to the past Catalyst projects with a successful progress yet still seeking business advice and/or supplemental funding.  The first Catalyst Plus is expected to take place in the fall.


“Barry” Selick, PhD. Photo by Noah Berger

UCSF has doubled down on its commitment to help move innovations from the bench to the bedside by hiring Selick, a former UCSF postdoc who had a long, distinguished career in biotech, to head UCSF Innovation Ventures. Article