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Biomedical Accelerator Accepts 12 New Research Projects (Updated)

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(Public Domain Pictures, Pixabay)

20 August 2015, Updated 21 August 2015 (see below). The Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator at Harvard University is adding 12 new campus research projects to transform their findings into marketable products and services. The accelerator aims to bridge the gap between academic labs and venture financing, often called the Valley of Death because of the lack of support provided to promising research results.

The Blavatnik program began in 2007 and later expanded to provide funding for promising life sciences research with commercial potential, as well as guidance for academic faculty in taking their research to market. The accelerator also helps connect academic entrepreneurs with licensing opportunities and venture investment. The program so far provided $12.5 million to 68 projects, half of which led to industry partnerships, according to the university.

Funded projects for 2015-16 include new therapies, drug delivery mechanisms, therapeutic target identification, diagnostics, and imaging technologies. Recipients were selected from proposals submitted by Harvard medical and life science faculty.

Among the recipients are researchers investigating new drug delivery technologies. Neel Joshi, an engineering professor with Harvard’s Wyss Institute is altering probiotic bacteria to deliver therapies to the gut for treating gastrointestinal disorders. Environmental health professor Quan Lu is studying tiny vesicles in plasma cell membranes to deliver large protein therapies directly to cells.

Cell biologist Stephen Liberles conducts research on vagus nerve cells and receptors involved in connections between the gut and brain that could affect obesity, diabetes, and intestinal disorders. Richard Lee at Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute is investigating hormones related to exercise for their potential in treating diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

Stem Cell Institute colleague David Scadden is studying new biological targets regulating cancer cell survival and drug resistance, particularly those involving leukemia. Geneticist David Sinclair is applying computational methods for identifying new peptides to treat mitochondrial diseases, involving energy centers of cells.

Biochemist Andrew Myers plans to apply a new type of chemistry platform to synthesize antimicrobial molecules to treat multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. Microbiologist David Knipe is also researching infections, in this case from herpes simplex viruses, focusing on a protein shown to regulate latent infections and preventing the virus from becoming active.

Two other Blavatnik accelerator recipients are investigating technologies that address cancer and other disorders. Chemistry professor Matthew Shair studies small molecule therapies targeting an enzyme associated with cancer as well as obesity. Stem cell biologist Chad Cowan applies genome editing to address limitations of T-cell therapies that harness the immune system to treat cancer and other diseases.

Earlier this week, Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator announced its 2015-16 entrepreneurship fellows, five Harvard Business School alumni who will work with academic scientists to commercialize their research findings.

Update, 21 August 2015. In response to a question from Science & Enterprise about the lack of women among the new Blavatnik accelerator recipients, Harvard University spokesperson Caroline Perry sent the following statement:

For the FY16 round of Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator funding, our University-wide RFP resulted in 25 pre-proposals (the first stage of the review process). Only 2 of these were submitted by women. Although neither of those proposals advanced to the finalist stage, the Accelerator’s advisory committee did extend additional funding to Prof. Susan Dymecki, whose project on precision therapeutics for autism and schizophrenia was among those funded last year and still continues.

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