New Translational Catalyst Award Supports Developing Diagnostics, Therapeutics

S. Claiborne Johnston

S. Claiborne Johnston

Researchers at UCSF and affiliated institutes are encouraged to apply for a new catalyst award that is designed to support the practical early development of diagnostics and therapeutics for use in patient care, also called translational research phase 1 or T1.

The concept of this award is unusual: Although successful applicants may receive some financial support directly, the real prize is detailed consultation from a panel of experts. Experts from industry, academia, and venture capital who have experience creating therapies and diagnostic tests will help the researchers outline appropriate next steps for the translation of their discovery and find appropriate partners and funders in industry and foundations. 

A similar program was piloted at the Gladstone and Gallo institutes, managed by some of the same experts, and has resulted in a variety of commercial relationships with pharmaceutical and biotech companies and venture capital funded start ups, including significant amounts of research support.

Bridging Bench to Bedside

Academia is the source of many important discoveries that ultimately lead to the development of therapies and diagnostic tests, but researchers need help bringing them to the bedside. See this graphic for an explanation of clinical and translational science.

T1 Catalyst Award Cycle

Application deadline: March 1, 2010

“Although the total biomedical research investment has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, the pace of development of new drugs has actually slowed quite a bit,” says S. Claiborne Johnston, MD, PhD, associate vice chancellor of research and director of UCSF’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI). “These awards are meant to give investigators what they need to take the key steps toward seeing their discoveries improve health. Money by itself won’t do it. Partnerships and mentoring are also key.”

As UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, pointed out “to help make drug development faster, cheaper and more predictable, we need to understand earlier and with greater confidence what the best ideas are.”

The T1 catalyst program is designed to help achieve this goal by removing the barriers for investigators to suggest ideas. “It’s no longer limited to the few with experience in doing this sort of translation,” says Johnston. “The panel of experts with both scientific and business expertise will review a large number of ideas to select the best ones.”

In addition, the T1 Catalyst Award aims to overcome some other critical barriers that prevent laboratory advances being converted into new medical products and tests in humans. Researchers in an academic setting often lack the knowledge it takes to work with industry. They are not trained to manage complex regulatory and patent issues, and may not have access to techniques necessary to confirm safety and establish dosing.

Finding Partners

“Sometimes a basic discovery is so promising it can be licensed directly to a company or used to secure venture capital,” Johnston explains. “More often discoveries are promising, but key steps are necessary to move something out of the University and into development. These steps can be difficult and expensive, and the National Institutes of Health has generally not funded this type of research. Finding a partner in industry that can either fund the next steps or provide key reagents or techniques can be a huge help.” 

The panel of experts overseeing the T1 Catalyst Award is charged with making these connections. 

Stephen Freedman, a consultant at the Gladstone Institutes and former senior vice president of research at Elan Pharmaceuticals, has been looking at the best practices to promote synergy between high-powered academic research teams and colleagues from the pharmaceutical industry for years.

“We are hearing from researchers that the program helped the individuals recognize and obtain key capabilities not normally seen within academia, and speak the same language as industry at a time when it was appropriate to enter partnering discussions, Freedman says. “A significant number of industrial collaborations have resulted in long-term mentoring relationships that still continue.”

The funding for the consulting services and pilot experiments will be provided by CTSI, which spearheads this campuswide initiative. It is part of CTSI’s mission to create a culture for innovation and rapid knowledge translation to improve the health for all.

Applicants must demonstrate that their project holds the potential to turn into new diagnostic or therapeutic and to obtain novel intellectual property, if not already filed. Any stage of research development and any disease area where there is an unmet medical need or the potential for significant improvement over current treatments or diagnostics may qualify for the award.

Applications for the T1 Catalyst Award will be collected and processed through UCSF Resource Allocation Program (RAP), which represents a single mechanism for application, review and evaluation for major UCSF pilot granting programs. 

“I am truly excited about the new T1 Catalyst Award,” says Kathy Giacomini, PhD, co-chair of the Strategic Opportunities Support (SOS) planning committee and director of the UCSF Center for Pharmacogenomics. “It will add a new dimension to the portfolio of grant opportunities offered to UCSF investigators through RAP.”

Related Links:

Clinical & Translational Science Institute

UCSF Chancellor Cites Need for Faster Pipeline of Better, Cheaper Drugs for Cancer Patients
Science Café, February 3, 2010