Industry-Academic Partners Give Promising UCSF Research Critical Boost

Jeannette S. Brown, MD (left) with June Lee, MD, director of CTSI's Catalyst Program.

By Kate Rauch

Collaboration Cornerstone of CTSI T1 Catalyst Program

As part of ongoing efforts to kick start promising early-stage research, UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) recently brought together industry partners, researchers, and University leaders at the Mission Bay campus for a science showcase culminating the Spring 2012 T1 Translational Catalyst Award program cycle.

The event featured nine award finalists who presented their ideas to a diverse panel of academic and industry reviewers. The research involved the treatment of medical conditions ranging from cancer and heart disease to vision impairments and Alzheimer’s.

“You can see the passion, and this is the most important thing about product development,” said Bruce Gingles, vice president of Cook Medical, Inc., a global manufacturer of medical devices, and a T1 Catalyst program consultant who attended the event. “We believe there’s a lot of untapped potential within academia to drive new devices in the years ahead.”

Our healthcare system needs more of this kind of true collaboration to continue bringing significant treatments to market.
Jeff Jonker, Chief Business Officer at Satori Pharmaceuticals and a T1 Catalyst program consultant

The T1 Catalyst program is fostering unique and valuable collaboration, says Jeff Jonker, chief business officer at Satori Pharmaceuticals who also serves as a T1 consultant.

“What strikes me as noteworthy in the academic arena is the close pairing between UCSF researchers and industry representatives,” Jonker said. “The program requires dialogue, and each participant brings a unique experience and vantage point that helps propel medical insights into practical reality.  

“In industry and academia we talk a lot about collaborative partnerships, but in my experience the two spheres rarely work side by side as they do with the T1 Catalyst program. Our healthcare system needs more of this kind of true collaboration to continue bringing significant treatments to market,” he said.

Research Ideas Address Critical Needs

With a focus on developing devices, diagnostics therapeutics, and digital health solutions, CTSI’s T1 Translational Catalyst Award helps researchers navigate the lengthy and complex process of translating ideas into patient benefit.

Proposed solutions presented by the award finalists include a retina scan to catch early signs of Alzheimer’s; a blood test to detect heart failure; inhibitors that may block the notoriously difficult-to-treat Cytomegalovirus and Kaposi’s sarcoma; a minimally invasive technique for medicating the back of the eye.

To help advance promising research, the three-phased T1 Catalyst Award program provides increasing amounts of individualized consultation with experts in the legal, regulatory, and business ends of medical product development. The Spring 2012 finalists have already honed their research proposals with the help of numerous hours of customized advice.

As part of the twice-a-year award, one researcher will receive funding of $100,000, and a select number of other researchers will receive smaller amounts to further develop their research. Since the launch of the award in the Spring of 2010, 37 UCSF researchers have received T1 Catalyst consultation and funding awards.

Expert Consultants Key to Shaping Promising Research

While the award money is a coup for researchers, it is only one part of the T1 Catalyst story, and not necessarily the most important, past awardees say.

“The T1 Catalyst has helped us get ready to move our research project into the real world,” said Robert Bhisitkul, MD, PhD, a professor at UCSF’s School of Medicine and part of the team developing drug delivery for the back of the eye.

“We gained focus on key translational steps—defining the regulatory pathway and building a preclinical data package that meets industry expectations,” he said. “Overall this has helped to shape our next set of lab studies, and to set plans for each stage of development to reach the goal of human studies and commercialization.”

For consultant and patent attorney Laurence Hyman, principal at Hyman IP Law, who has served as a legal advisor to UCSF in the past, advising applicants increases his exposure to state-of-the-art science and helps him do his job. “This gives me a way to work with some great people and see some great science,” Hyman said.

“Sitting on a review panel with VCs, business development experts, drug development people and people with other industry experience, I also get to hear how they evaluate inventions and better understand the drivers for my clients, so it helps inform my practice.”

The number of consultants volunteering with the T1 Catalyst Award is growing as word spreads of the program’s unique spirit, organizers say.

Commitment to Translational Research

The T1 Catalyst Award is an example of how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports translational science—research that is linked to improving health, says June Lee, MD, director of CTSI’s Catalyst Program, which manages the award.

“The public—the people who fund this research—is rightly interested in getting a return on investment,” Lee said. “UCSF is uniquely positioned to succeed in doing that through programs like T1 Catalyst, which leverages the incredibly rich ecosystem of innovation in biotechnology in the Bay Area.”

“We believe that will translate to moving research out of academia and into the community to improve health,” she added.

Among the attendees at the research showcase was Heng Xie, MD, MPH, PhD, a supervisory medical officer and team leader with National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), part of the NIH. His team oversees the work of CTSI and 29 other institutes that are part of the 60-member Clinical and Translational Science Awards network.

“This is a very innovative program,” he said. “Young investigators feel that someone cares about what they’re doing and can help them along the way, so they don’t get lost. And the consultants have a sense of satisfaction about their contributions.”

“Sometimes, a mentor can talk to a mentee in one or two sessions, and save them one or two years of work. That’s a big benefit. You have to go through the translational process to appreciate the value this program offers,” he said.

Spring 2012 T1 Translational Catalyst Award finalists | See all (2010-2012)  

  • Ari Green MD, Assistant Professor Medicine – Retinal imaging of amyloid-beta as a screening tool for glaucoma and and Alzheimer’s
  • Michael Korn MD, Associate Professor in Residence, Medicine –Development of a predictive marker for sensitivity to treatment with MEK and EGFR.
  • Tejal Desai, PhD, Professor School of Pharmacy - Nanoengineered thin film devices for ocular drug delivery
  • Jay Stewart MD, Associate Professor Medicine - Novel photodynamic therapy for the treatment of infectious keratitis
  • Conor Caffrey, PhD, Associate Research Scientist - Developing a new chemotherapeutic for treatment of the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis
  • Charles Craik PhD, Professor Pharmacy - Validation of the KSHV protease as a therapeutic target through allosteric inhibition
  • Peder Larson, PhD, Assistance Professor in Residence, Medicine - Simultaneous perfusion and metabolic imaging in prostate cancer
  • Robin Shaw, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Residence, Medicine - Novel biomarker for heart failure based on cardiomyocyte biology
  • John Fahy MD, Professor Medicine - Modified carbohydrate derivatives as novel reducing agents for the treatment of pathological mucous in acute and chronic airway disease

Are you a researcher with a great idea? Find out if the T1 Catalyst Award is for you. Also take advantage of a complimentary 30-minute consultation by contacting Ruben Rathnasingham, senior program manager for CTSI’s Catalyst program.

UCSF's CTSI is a member of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards network funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (Grant Number UL1 TR000004). Under the banner of Accelerating Research to Improve Health, CTSI provides a wide range of services for researchers, and promotes online collaboration and networking tools such as UCSF Profiles.