UCSF-CTSI Catalyst Awards Spring 2014 Winners are Announced

From left: June Lee, MD, Rebecca Sudore,Md, Michael Blum, MD, Ruben Rathnasingham, PhD, Ellyn Cohen, PhD, Aenor Sawer, MD, Ron Keizer, PhD

Latest Catalyst Awards program participants showcase progression of early research to product pathway. Bonus: NEW Infographic, Slideshow

Imagine a world where dry eye disorders, including Sjögren’s syndrome, could be relieved, or even eliminated. After completing the intensive four-month Spring cycle of the UCSF-CTSI Catalyst Awards program, Marc H. Levin, MD, PhD, first to present at its final ‘report out’ meeting, shared how far along his research had progressed in developing such novel dry eye therapy. Levin worked with the Catalyst Awards staff and carefully chosen expert product development advisors, including Charles Semba, MD, to identify potential risks and opportunities to create a viable research, development and commercialization strategy. 

“The Catalyst Awards program and advisors provided invaluable advice and support – especially in helping me navigate a commercial pathway and IP issues,” said Levin, who was one of the participants later awarded funding in the therapeutics track. Levin’s Catalyst Awards program application was first reviewed in March 2014 by a panel of academic and industry experts, selected from the broader pool of Catalyst Awards advisors. These included industry and clinical leaders such as Charles Semba, MD, and Sean Ianchulev, MD, MPH, as well as equity and corporate investors such as Ed Hurwitz and Sam Wu, MD, PhD. Over the subsequent months, Levin was matched with Semba to better understand and address the potential development risks that were highlighted during the review meeting, and to prepare for the final report out presentation.

Rebecca L. Sudore, MD

Initiated in 2010 by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) at UC San Francisco, the Catalyst Awards program accelerates promising early research by offering funding support and connecting investigators with a growing number of expert consultants (now at 160+) from academia, industry and venture capital who provide technology assessment, professional advice and detailed feedback with a specific focus on product development and commercial viability. Over a 3-4 month ‘cycle’, Catalyst Awards advisors support researchers working in four tracks—therapeutics, diagnostics, devices and digital health—and are a key component of what differentiates this innovative program.

More than 100 academic and industry executives, researchers and students attended the June 13th closed-door event. From the 32 proposals submitted to the Spring cycle, 13 were chosen to deliver final presentations with topics ranging from a “TickChip” to clinically diagnose Lyme disease to a mobile app to increase access and awareness of UCSF clinical trials. Ten of the 13 finalists received funding to execute on their proposed research and development plan.

In his introduction, Ruben Rathnasingham, PhD, associate director of CTSI’s Catalyst program, which administers the Catalyst Awards, also highlighted the current status of three past Catalyst awardees, stressing the unique value of combining expert advice and seed funding to guide and accelerate these promising early innovations forward more efficiently. “It is wonderful to see the progression of these amazingly talented researchers and their projects and as they implement their development strategies with the help of dedicated advisors who have done it before.”

Cathy Tralau-Stewart, PhD, a former drug development executive who leads the therapeutics track of the Catalyst Awards program added, “‘In my first full Catalyst Awards cycle, it’s great to see so many excellent but often early-staged projects being supported. In my many years in industry and academia nurturing and translating novel therapeutic ideas, I see this as a unique mechanism for academic project teams to access key development and strategy expertise - which are typically unavailable to them. “

Repeat “Customers”

One indication of the Catalyst program’s impact is in the growing numbers of repeat applicants. One such project in the Spring 2014 cycle is the ‘microscopic residual tumor imager’ led by Catherine Park, MD, and Mekhail Anwar MD, PhD.

From left: Teresa Wright, MD, Linda McAllister, MD, PhD, Advisors to the Catalyst Awards Diagnostics Track

“In our initial contact with the Catalyst program, we received valuable insights into the potential clinical and commercialization hurdles facing our proposed innovation – but we received no funding due to concerns with clinical utility and potential for commercialization. We used the feedback to fine-tune and strengthen the value proposition of our technology and research plan, such that we were able to garner seed funding when we re-applied. The guidance and funding we received made all the difference.” Said Anwar. Park and Anwar developed a prototype based on a target product profile and filed for new intellectual property. Preliminary results were presented at the American Society of Radiation Oncology, where it was awarded the Basic Science Abstract Award as well as a grant by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.


“With the successful completion of our initial goals, we applied to the program again in the Spring and received follow-on guidance and funding that will help us build and test a prototype to gather in-vivo data,” added Anwar. In the Spring 2014 cycle, the team was supported by Catalyst advisors Alex de Winter, PhD and Stacy Feld, JD, both of whom had knowledge of the challenges and opportunities faced by similar products in development.

“We are so proud of the progress made by our awardees. By supporting them with customized guidance and funding to get to the most critical development milestones, we are able to maximize the effectiveness of scare research dollars”, said June Lee, MD, director of CTSI's Catalyst program.

Experienced, Dedicated and Thoughtful Advisors

From left: June Lee, MD with Spring 2014 Outstanding Catalyst Awards Advisors Chris Jones, MSE & Rick Beberman, MBA. Ruben Rathnasingham, PhD (right)

The key to making the Catalyst Awards program a success is the contribution of the broad panel of advisors that review proposals and guide applicants. They are vetted not only for their technical and development experience, but also for their ability to mentor and provide thoughtful guidance to equally talented and accomplished academic researchers. Two long-time Catalyst Awards program advisors were recognized for their exceptional contributions to the program: Rick Beberman, MBA, an investment and corporate development professional who also advises digital health startups, and Chris Jones, MSE, a seasoned medical device entrepreneur, executive and inventor.


This event was made possible by the support of Catalyst Awards program partner Sheppard Mullin.

Catalyst Awards Program Participants Share Thoughts:
I got involved through the website at UCSF shown to me by one of my supervisors. I applied, we worked hard on our proposal, we got through the first round and now we’re here. It’s definitely hard work, but there are people with a lot of knowledge and willing to help you in this program – that’s a really big help and the end result is very good.
 - Ron Keizer, PharmD, PhD

I thought the Catalyst Awards program was great - regardless of today’s outcome this was a tremendous help.The internal and external advisors all helped me focus some of the IP issues and commercial aspects that had been difficult to get advice on for these type of projects in my 15 years at UCSF. The program and feedback have been very helpful in a way I didn’t know existed here.
Scott C. Baraban, PhD

Is the Catalyst Award right for you? Take the survey
Next Cycle Deadline: September 22, 2014

Catalyst Awards, Spring 2014 Cycle Winners

Marc Levin, MD, PhD - Small Molecule Therapy for Dry Eye Therapy
Michael Matthay, MD - Mesenchymal Stem Cell Derived Biologics for Treatment of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
Scott Baraban, PhD - Zebrafish as a Model for Drug Discovery in Epilepsy
Pamela England, Phd - Small Molecules Targeting Parkinson’s Disease
Lei Stanley Qi, PhD - A Novel Epigenetic Therapeutic Strategy For Treating Beta-Thalassemia
Charles Chiu, MD, PhD - Clinical Validation of a Multiplexed Diagnostic Assay for Lyme Disease and Other Tickborne Illnesses During Acute Infection
Catherine Park, MD - A Real-Time Intraoperative Fluorescent Imager for Microscopic Residual Tumor
Digital Health:
Ron Keizer, PharmD, PhD - Cloud-Based Dose-Individualization of Busulfan in Children
Rebecca Sudore, MD - A Novel Website to Preparing Diverse Older Adults for Medical Decision Making
Ellyn Cohen, PhD - Development of a Mobile Application for Increasing Access to UCSF Clinical Trials

See Full Infographic


See Event Photos on Flickr
Catalyst Awards Report Out 2014 Spring
In addition to managing the Catalyst Awards, CTSI’s Catalyst program supports researchers at UCSF and CTSI Affiliate institutions through expert consultations and resource identification (internal or external with Contract Research Organizations). CTSI is a member of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards network funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (grant Number UL1 TR000004) at the National Institutes of Health.