The NSF I-Corps Upstate New York (UNY) Node is offering a short course program for researchers interested in exploring the market potential of their work and learning entrepreneurial skills. Short Courses—geared toward faculty, doctoral candidates, and postdocs—are offered at no cost to participants and consist of both in-person and remote meetings over a two-week period. Short Course graduates receive National Science Foundation (NSF) lineage and are able to apply to other NSF grant awards, including the National I-Corps Teams program, which carries a grant award up to $50,000. Previous NSF funding is not required to apply. The next Short Course will kick off at the University of Rochester for half day sessions on Friday, February 21, and Saturday, February 22; followed by web conference meetings on February 26 and March 4 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.; and will conclude on Friday, March 6. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. Candidates must apply online by February 17. Contact the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship with questions or to learn more.
CNY Biotech Accelerator, a division of the State University of New York Upstate Medical University, located in Syracuse, NY, is seeking medical device innovators for its annual 6-month grant-funded Medical Device Innovation Challenge (MDIC). Applications from US-based innovators are accepted January 1 – May 31, 2020. Selected participants receive 6-months of free workspace in the Creation Garage at the Central New York Biotech Accelerator, mentorship, and networking opportunities. Learn more and apply here.
The Fall 2019 round of the Technology Development Fund is now open! Awards are up to $100,000 for funded projects. Pre-proposals are due to Omar Bakht (email@example.com) by 5pm on October 31st.
Eligible projects propose the development of university-owned technology to a commercial endpoint. A requirement for the award is that an invention disclosure be filed with UR Ventures. An invention disclosure can be filed here.
Non-Inventor Developers can propose to develop technology that they did not invent. The hope is that developers (engineers, software developers, etc.) will form lasting collaborations with inventors to help bring UR technologies to the market. If you submit a pre-proposal for this round and you are a non-inventor, please also fill out the Non-Inventor profit-sharing agreement.
The University of Rochester has joined together with the University of Buffalo and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center to form Empire Discovery Institute, a new drug discovery partnership that aims to convert the institutions’ scientific breakthroughs into viable pharmaceuticals for commercialization and strengthen the region as a hub for life sciences research and development. The Empire Discovery Institute (EDI) is designed to help overcome key challenges typically faced by life science researchers in academia – lack of external funding to continue research efforts and lack of pharmaceutical industry expertise to advance these programs to fruition.
The 2019 EDI Medicines Award Program is now open. Applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis until the November 29, 2019 submission deadline. Read more here.
A new needle-free flu vaccine patch revved up the immune system much like a traditional flu shot without any negative side effects, according to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Though the research is in the early stages (the patch hasn’t been tested in humans), it’s an important step toward a technology that could replace needle-based vaccination methods that require administration by health care workers and biohazard waste removal.
“Scientists have been studying needle-free vaccine approaches for nearly two decades, but none of the technologies have lived up to the hype,” said Benjamin L. Miller, Ph.D., corresponding author and Dean’s Professor of Dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Our patch overcomes a lot of the challenges faced by microneedle patches for vaccine delivery, the main method that’s been tested over the years, and our efficacy and lack of toxicity make me excited about the prospect of a product that could have huge implications for global health.”
Common skin disease paves the way for needleless flu shot
Transporting big molecules like flu vaccine proteins across the skin is difficult to do, as the skin is intended to keep things out of the body, not to let them in. The study team took lessons learned from the research and treatment of a common inflammatory skin disease to overcome this hurdle and inform their flu vaccine patch strategy.
In patients with eczema, or atopic dermatitis, the skin barrier is leaky, allowing pollens, molds and a host of other allergens to enter through the skin and be sensed by the immune system. Lisa A. Beck, M.D., corresponding author and Dean’s Professor of Dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered that the expression of a protein called claudin-1 helps maintain barrier strength and lessen the permeability of the skin. Claudin-1 is significantly reduced in eczema patients (hence the leaky skin barrier) compared to individuals without the disease.
In past research, Beck found that decreasing claudin-1 expression in skin cells from healthy donors made the skin more permeable. Beck, Miller, and first author Matthew Brewer, Ph.D., wondered if they could use this induced permeability to get a flu vaccine virus through the skin. The key would be to disrupt the skin barrier long enough to deliver the virus, but not so long to let unwanted things in.
How it works: Dermatology, chemistry and vaccine biology collide
Miller, a chemist, worked with Brewer, who was trained in vaccine biology and immunology, to develop synthetic peptides that bind to and inhibit claudin-1 in an effort to open up the skin barrier. They tested their formulations in human skin cells and identified a peptide that disrupted the barrier without any toxic effects.
Next, they designed a patch containing the synthetic peptide and a recombinant flu vaccine and tested two scenarios. In the first, they placed the patch on mice to prime the immune system and subsequently administrated an intramuscular flu shot to boost immunity. In the second they did the opposite, delivering an intramuscular flu shot first to prime the immune system followed by the patch to boost immunity.
In both scenarios they placed the flu vaccine patch, which looks like a tiny piece of tape, on the backs of mice and left if there for as little as 18 and as long as 36 hours. The patch effectively opened up the skin barrier, as measured by water loss through the skin.
When the patch was placed first there wasn’t a significant immune response, suggesting that it might not be effective at taking a flu naïve infant who hasn’t received a flu shot or been exposed to the virus to adequate protection. But, it did initiate a robust immune response (as measured by an increase in antibodies to the flu vaccine virus) when it followed the intramuscular shot, suggesting it could boost preexisting immunity for anyone six months or older who has been vaccinated and/or exposed to the virus (mimicking what happens when we get seasonal flu shots year after year).
Importantly, the team saw no physical changes in the skin over the three month period the mice were observed, meaning that the brief barrier disruption didn’t increase the risk of infection.
“When we applied the patch with the peptide the mouse skin became permeable for a short time,” said Brewer, a postdoctoral fellow in both the Beck and Miller labs. “But as soon as the patch was removed the skin barrier started to close. We saw significant differences as early as one hour after removal, and by 24 hours the skin was back to normal, which is great news from a safety standpoint.”
Improved vaccine delivery for global health
Current needle-based vaccines are effective but require medical personnel to deliver, generate biohazards (sharps) requiring disposal, and cause patients pain and anxiety – all barriers to delivery in developing world countries, which are the areas of greatest need.
“These countries don’t have the manpower to vaccinate entire populations,” said Beck. “On top of that, there’s an aversion to health care in many of these communities. A needle is painful, it’s invasive, and that makes things more difficult when you are dealing with a cultural bias against preventative medicine.”
A flu vaccine patch could provide a non-invasive way to administer vaccines quickly and cheaply to large numbers of people.
“If you want to vaccinate a village in Africa you don’t want to do it with needles,” added Miller. “A patch doesn’t have to be refrigerated, it can be applied by anyone, and there are no concerns about disposal or needles getting reused.”
There’s a lot more work to be done on the flu vaccine patch, including additional animal studies to help the team optimize the amount of time the patch must remain on the skin to appropriately boost the immune response. The team hopes to conduct human trials in the future, and believes that if the patch is effective in people it could work for diseases for which there’s already a needle-based vaccine.
The research was funded by a technology development grant from UR Ventures and grants from the National Institutes of Health. In addition to Miller, Beck and Brewer, Elizabeth Anderson, Radha Pandya, Anna DeBenedetto, Takeshi Yoshida, Tom Hilimire and Luis Martinez-Sobrido contributed to the study. Two of the synthetic peptides developed by the team are patented and two are under a provisional patent.
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The University of Rochester Medical Center is home to approximately 3,000 individuals who conduct research on everything from cancer and heart disease to Parkinson’s, pandemic influenza and autism. Spread across many centers, institutes and labs, our scientists have developed therapies that have improved human health locally, in the region and across the globe. To learn more, visit www.urmc.rochester.edu/research.
Oscine Therapeutics, a new biotechnology company based on discoveries made and developed at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has received a significant multi-year investment to support both research and development of cell-based therapies for neurological disorders. The funding represents the largest-ever investment in a URMC start-up company.
The new venture is based on decades of research in the lab of Steve Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the URMC Center for Translational Neuromedicine. Goldman’s work has focused on understanding the basic biology and molecular function of support cells in the central nervous system, devising new techniques to precisely manipulate and sort these cells, and studying how cell replacement could impact the course of neurological diseases.
Goldman has developed techniques to manipulate the chemical signaling of embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells to create the brain’s support cells, called glia. A subtype of these, called glial progenitor cells, gives rise to the brain’s main support cells, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, which play important roles in the health and signaling function of nerve cells.
“Neurological disorders are complex diseases, but in many instances it appears that faulty support cells of the brain are driving the disease process,” said Goldman, the URMC Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and Neurology. “These diseases represent promising targets for cell-replacement therapies because we know a great deal about the role these cells play, how to create them, and how to get them to the areas of the brain where they are needed.”
The investment in Oscine is being made by Sana Biotechnology, a new company focused on creating and delivering engineered cells as medicines for patients. The company is led by a team of biotechnology industry veterans with extensive experience in cell therapy, gene therapy, and gene editing. The company is backed by visionary investors including Arch Venture Partners, Flagship Pioneering, and F-Prime Capital Partners.
In many neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Huntington’s, glial cells have impaired development and function, or are simply lost during the course of the disease. This results in the disruption of communication between nerve cells, leading to the motor, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms of these disorders.
Goldman’s lab has developed new methods to replace the sick glial cells found in these diseases with healthy ones. In research involving animal models of these diseases, this approach has slowed, and for some disorders even reversed, disease progression.
The new investment – the terms of which were not publicly disclosed – will support R&D by Oscine focused on bringing these cell-based therapies to the clinic. The research will be conducted at URMC under a sponsored research agreement and will support 21 full-time staff, with researchers in Rochester and additional staff in Seattle and New York City. The manufacturing of cells for clinical delivery will use protocols developed at Rochester.
“Cell-based therapies hold significant promise, and while progress has been made in areas such as cancer, there is a significant unmet need in diseases of the central nervous system,” said Christina Trojel-Hansen, Ph.D., the CEO of Oscine, who co-founded the company along with Goldman and spearheaded its organization and fundraising. “The support from Sana will enable us to advance important research in this field and work with an established team that has experience in bringing cell-based therapies through clinical trials and into clinical practice. I am also deeply grateful for the team at the University of Rochester for their efforts to ensure that these important scientific discoveries can now advance toward a clinical application.”
“Our bread and butter at ARCH is in starting companies with top researchers in world-class universities across the globe who are working on transformative discoveries, and pairing those seminal innovations with hard-charging entrepreneurs,” said Paul S. Thurk, managing director with Arch Venture Partners. “We found that golden mix with Dr. Goldman and Dr. Trojel-Hansen at Oscine.”
The University of Rochester and Cornell University have licensed intellectual property to Oscine, and both the University of Rochester and Goldman hold equity stakes in the company. Goldman also serves as Oscine’s President. The negotiation of the license and sponsored research agreement terms was led by Matan Rapoport, Ph.D., M.B.A., senior licensing manager with UR Ventures, the University of Rochester’s technology transfer office.
“This investment underscores the cutting-edge nature of the neurological cell therapy research program at URMC,” said Steve Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for Research at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “We are excited that the basic science discoveries made here at the Medical Center are the basis for innovative, first-in-class therapies that hold the potential to change the lives of people with these devastating neurodegenerative diseases.”
Goldman and the Center for Translational Neuromedicine maintain labs in both Rochester and at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Goldman’s research for cell-based therapies has received support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation, the Lundbeck Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, CHDI, and NYSTEM.
University of Rochester start-up, VPG Medical, was recently featured in the Rochester Business Journal:
Among the companies in the Luminate NY accelerator, VPG Medical Inc. is a bit unique.
While most companies in the accelerator are based around developing hardware products in the optics, photonics and imaging space, VPG is a software company, developing a platform that can be used with built-in smartphone, tablets and computer cameras. In a software atmosphere where virtually every possible use of a phone’s capabilities has been explored, it’s tough to imagine what kind of tech a company could produce to put them in the largest optics accelerator in the world without even having a physical product.
That is, until founder and CEO Jean-Phillippe Couderc explains just what they do.
“What is quite amazing about this technology is that it uses the embedded camera from the smart devices to capture the electrical activity of the heart,” Couderc said. “It actually detects subtle changes in the color of your skin that occurs each time your heart beats.”
Precision medicine is saving lives, but Harris A. (Handy) Gelbard, director of Center for Neurotherapeutics Discovery at URMC, believes we’re overlooking another class of extremely important treatment candidates: multi-target drugs. In STAT News, he shares his views on why U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies should pay closer attention to these drugs—including a promising compound discovered right here at URMC.
Learning a musical instrument requires dedication, practice, and time. Making performance errors is a natural part of the learning process; however, learning delays can occur when errors go uncorrected during individual practice. A recently established startup company, Shenzhen Mango Future Education Technology Co (Mango Future), has developed a product to address this problem.
Mango Future aims to improve and revolutionize the way people learn to play musical instruments. The company’s first product is Lian – a smartphone-application-based intelligent assistant for instrument practicing. The application, which is based on core technologies developed by University of Rochester Professor Zhiyao Duan, can listen to and track a musician’s performance on the score in real time, providing feedback on pitch and rhythm accuracy. The University licensed the rights to that technology to Mango Future.
The smartphone application enables the student to identify and correct errors as they practice and is intended to supplement musical instruction. Currently, the application is available to users in China and the United States. The company intends to expand its application to other string instruments, and eventually to brass and wood instruments.
The Ain Center for Entrepreneurship’s Buzz Lab Boot Camp: Four Saturdays for a Better Business is accepting applications for its second cohort. Designed for entrepreneurs, small business owners and aspiring innovators from the Greater Rochester community, the series of interactive workshops will run Saturdays, February 9, 16, 23, and March 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the River Campus. Accepted applicants will receive scholarships provided through a grant from the Economic Development Administration within the US Department of Commerce. The cost to participate is $25 and includes lunch for all four Saturdays. Those who complete the program will receive a certificate from the University. View the brochure and register online by February 6.