San Antonio — For biotech researchers, even a few thousand dollars in early funding can provide that extra runway that turns a simple (or complex) idea into a startup.
At the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, that thinking created a fund that provides researchers who work at the university up to $25,000 in proof-of-concept awards every year. Twelve teams of researchers with ideas for drugs or medical devices on Wednesday pitched a group of investors, biomedical executives, and others involved in the field, who scored the presentations and provided feedback to the faculty.
Winners will named later this week. This is the second year that the fund, called the President’s Translational and Entrepreneurial Research Fund or PTEF, has held the event. Proposals are judged by both the elemental science of the project, as well as how the researcher plans to use the money to get follow-on funding, be it venture capital, federal grants, or sponsored research.
“These people do want to change healthcare and the lives of patients,” John Gebhard, the director of the San Antonio health science center’s office of technology commercialization, wrote in an e-mail. (The UT Health Science Center is rebranding itself as UT Health San Antonio.) There is “a slow bubbling of entrepreneurism among faculty here at UT Health that is so gratifying to hear and witness.”
The field of pitches varied widely, from an augmented reality device to cancer treatments. Kevin King, an assistant professor who is a part of the emergency medicine faculty, is the CEO of MedCognition, a startup that uses an augmented reality device to train emergency medical technicians and other emergency workers on how to treat injuries in first-response situations.
King believes MedCognition’s offering could be about one-third of the price of existing training tools—typically an electronic mannequin that can cost around $100,000, he says. King wants to use the grant to build a minimum viable product, including creating graphics and art for training scenarios.
Rita Ghosh and a team of other UT researchers, including Ian Thompson, have developed a biomarker panel that they believe can predict the recurrence of prostate cancer. Targeting a protein known as FLIP, the scientists believe their biomarker panel is more specific and sensitive than traditional prostate-specific antigen test used in prostate cancer.
Ghosh, an associate professor in the department of urology, said her team has already tested the diagnostic in 120 patients and wants to test in a larger group, more than 300.
Among the other pitches were an antibody that aims to prevent cancer from spreading to bones, developed to be used in conjunction with chemotherapy; a topical treatment for hard-to-close wounds; and a pain drug that may avoid addictive properties.
The funding for the awards comes from the office of the health science center’s president, William Henrich, created as a part of the 2013-2017 planning process.