UCSF Innovation Partners Collaborate to Accelerate Promising Research

By Kate Darby Rauch 

Early research indicates that knocking down an enzyme revved up in prostate cancer may slow or stop some aggressive types of the disease, offering a hopeful targeted treatment for millions of patients.  Taking this investigation to the next level just received a major boost from the Catalyst Award, a unique program of UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) that is designed to help drive early-stage research through the complex regulatory and legal process of the medical marketplace.

Danica Fujimori, PhD, and her team, received the top award in the Spring 2015 cycle of the Catalyst Awards program for their work on targeting the provocative transcription regulating enzyme, which appears to play a role in tumor growth.  In addition to funding, she received something that many researchers say is more valuable than money: individualized consultation from experts in the legal, regulatory, and commercialization aspects of delivering treatments to patients.

Fujimori is one of ten Catalyst Award recipients this spring, from 28 applications. All winners, selected by advisors from UCSF and private industry, receive some funding as well as expert consultation. [See below for a list of all Spring 2015 winners].  Now in its fifth year, the Catalyst Awards program is increasingly viewed as a model of bridging excellence in academic labs with excellence in product development.

“The diversity of inventors and technologies at UCSF requires access to a wide range of expertise. The Catalyst Award program is well positioned to tap and coordinate a depth of Bay Area expertise, including at UCSF, with great potential to identify, enable, and support the most compelling technologies towards clinical impact,” said June Lee, MD, director of the Catalyst program.

Industry Luminary Opens Catalyst Awards Event

Sean Bohen, MD, PhD, senior vice president of Research and Early Development at Genentech opened the Catalyst Awards Program held in June at the Mission Bay campus. His talk, which focused on the growing influence of big data on drug development, drew a large audience of UCSF and private industry clinicians, scientists, investors and other professionals.

Harnessing the Breadth of UCSF Expertise

Other finalists in this cycle include work on a “smart” bandage that prevents bed sores, targeted protein therapy to prevent heart disease linked to LDL cholesterol, in utero transplantation of stem cells to treat congenital disorders, a personalized assay to monitor early organ transplant rejection, technology to prevent hospital alarm fatigue by incorporating real-time patient data, an app that helps families manage the care of their pre-term infants, and an app that helps elderly patients prepare for surgery.

“We had eyes wide open for the dollar signs, but what helped me most was the consulting; this was more valuable than the money,” said Hanmin Lee, MD, whose smart bandage was a Catalyst Awards winner in 2013, advancing phase 2 of his project to win again this Spring.

A breadth of UCSF partners participate in the Catalyst program including from the Center for Digital Health Innovation, Surgical Innovations, Small Molecule Discovery Center, Entrepreneurship Center and the UCSF Innovation, Technology & Alliances, and the Pediatric Device Consortium.

 “The Catalyst program represents an important part of the Center for Digital Health Innovation’s (CDHI) overall vision to access the creative minds and patients at our world class medical center to drive insights into the successful development, implementation, and adoption of new digital health technologies,” said Michael Blum, MD, CDHI director. The center provides funding and consultation.

Karin Immergluck, PhD, director of the UCSF Technology Management Office, said:  “Since 1996, UCSF technology has proved foundational for more than 100 start-up companies. Our office works closely with the Catalyst Award and other UCSF partners to ensure the effective disclosure, vetting and translation of valuable discoveries.”

UCSF receives over 200 invention disclosures a year, with close to 2300 active inventions in its portfolio, over 631 active US patents, 859 active foreign patents, and 443 active license agreements. “UCSF has a strong culture of innovation that is integral to the vibrant San Francisco bio-economy,” Immergluck said.

Rewarding for Advisors and Investigators  

The number of consultants involved with the Catalyst Award now tops 180, coming from biotech, pharmaceutical, legal and venture capital backgrounds. Serving as an advisor is intellectually stimulating as well as personally rewarding, many say.

“It’s spectacular; I’m a big fan,” said Phyllis Whitely, PhD, of Mohr Davidow Ventures, who was selected as one of this cycle’s outstanding Catalyst advisors along with Sam Wu, MD, PhD, of MedImmune Ventures.  Mentors help researchers link scientific value with marketplace value, which is a key to success, she said.  “We want to bring value-added benefit to UCSF. This has a financial component and the mentors know how to derive this value.”  It’s not easy getting NIH funding for early translational research, which makes the Catalyst Award an especially meaningful opportunity, she said.  “With the right advice, these projects are great for advancement.”

First time Catalyst applicant Tippi MacKenzie, MD, who won for her work using stem cells in utero, said the process gave her the skills needed to move from lab to clinical trials.  “Taking the leap to a clinical trial is huge. It involves a body of knowledge I don’t have,” MacKenzie said. “The Catalyst Program has provided that knowledge. Having the Catalyst team sort of hold your hand through the process has been great.”

"It's exciting to watch the Catalyst Awards evolve through the years, with proposals becoming increasingly innovative and translational as the program’s reputation for uniquely bridging academic labs with real-world applicability grows,” said Irina Gitlin, PhD, who leads the device and diagnostic tracks of the program and the successful Catalyst Internship Program.

The 2015 Spring Awardees

John Chorba, MD - "Discovery of Small Molecule Inhibitors of PCSK9"

Tippi MacKenzie, MD - "In Utero Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation for Alpha Thalassemia Major"

Danica Fujimori, PhD - "Targeting Oncogenic Demethylases"

Adam Renslo, PhD - “Antibody Drug Conjugates Based on Novel Linkers”

Xiao Hu, PhD - "SuperAlarm: Piloting an Advanced Analytics Platform for Precise Patient Monitoring"

Linda Franck, PhD - "We3 Health: Improving Preterm Infant Outcomes with Family Integrated Care and Mobile Devices"

Emily Finlayson, MD - "Prehab Pal: Preparing the Elderly for Surgery"

Minnie Sarwal, MD, PhD - “Personalizing Organ Transplant Monitoring by the PPRA assay"

Albert Chang, MD, PhD – “89Zr-Radiolabeled  ImmunoPET as a Non-Invasive Imaging Biomarker to Predict Response to Cancer Immunotherapy”

Hanmin Lee, MD - “SmartDerm: A Monitoring System for Decubitus Ulcer Prevention – Phase II”

Catalyst Awards Report Out 2015 Spring