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Univ. of Washington Opens Research Entrepreneurs Center

Hanging open sign

(Kaique Rocha, Pexels.com)

31 Jan. 2020. A new program at University of Washington helps biomedical researchers convert their discoveries into useful products or services for patients. The Washington Entrepreneurial Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub, or We-Reach, is funded in part by a four-year $4 million award from National Institutes of Health.

We-Reach aims to break down barriers and obstacles that prevent or slow development of new biomedical products and services from research discoveries in university labs. While the university and other research institutions in and around Seattle generate a high volume of research output, and the region is an entrepreneurial mecca, academic researchers still face high costs and risks in taking their discoveries to market, in a business world far different from academic science.

Rodney Ho, a professor of pharmacy at UW and executive director of We-Reach says in a university statement that the university and other nearby institutions “produce some of the most exciting biomedical discoveries and technologies in the world, but we always find it challenging to support their product development as they move into the early commercialization phases.”

We-Reach plans to establish an infrastructure and implementation system to assist commercialization of new technologies from academic research. The center also expects to identify the most promising research discoveries for commercialization and help provide funds and know-how to advance those ideas into product proof-of-concept and development. In addition, We-Reach plans to encourage biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device start-ups, and train their founders to lead these ventures.

The center expects to support four to six new start-ups a year that develop new drugs and other treatments, genetic testing, diagnostics, and health-related technologies, with funding of up to $200,000. Ho says funds for the new enterprises will finance activities like clinical trials and product development not usually supported by academic research grants.

We-Reach is a collaborative project with university partners including the Institute of Translational Health Sciences, Institute for Protein Design and School of Pharmacy, and UW CoMotion, the university’s technology innovation and entrepreneurship center. We-Reach also covers other research institutions in Seattle, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute and Seattle Children’s, as well as universities in the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho affiliated with University of Washington’s medical school.

University of Washington and the partner institutions contribute to the annual We-Reach budget, which is matched by funds from NIH. We-Reach is one of five regional research evaluation and commercialization hubs supported by NIH. The other centers are located in Kentucky at universities of Kentucky and Louisville, Rutgers University in New Jersey, University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, and a joint program with University of Missouri in Columbia and University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.

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