UCSF Award Program Guides Promising Early-Stage Research Toward Patient Benefit

CTSI Catalyst Awards Expand Focus to Digital Health, Therapeutics, Diagnostics and Devices

UCSF leaders and a special guest gather at Byers Hall to see presentations by Catalyst Award finalists on Feb. 8. From left, June Lee, director of CTSI’s Early Translational Research program; Erik Lium, director of UCSF’s Office of Innovation, Technology and Alliances; Jeffrey Bluestone, UCSF Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost; Tadataka Yamada, executive vice president of Takeda Pharmaceuticals; and Keith Yamamoto, UCSF Vice Chancellor of Research.

An innovative project to develop a potential therapy to treat a wide range of cancers has won a major UC San Francisco award that aims to drive promising early-stage research through the complex process of translating ideas into patient benefit.

The Catalyst Awards, which combine funding with customized expert feedback and advice, announced winners for its Fall 2012 cycle. Funded by UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the awards focus on the development of four areas: therapeutics, diagnostics, devices, and now also digital health.

Mary Nakamura, MD

Mary Nakamura, MD

This cycle’s top, $100,000 award went to Mary Nakamura, MD, an associate professor in residence in the UCSF School of Medicine. Funding for her proposal – “A Recombinant Fusion Protein that redirects VEGF to actively kill cancer cells: R1FasL” – will support additional research to test the efficacy and safety of using an artificial protein, known as R1FasL, in cancer treatment.

“I think [the Catalyst Award program] creates a target for people who have innovative ideas to help move their work forward. That just hasn’t existed in academia before,” said Keith Yamamoto, PhD, vice chancellor for research at UCSF and one of several UCSF leaders on hand for presentations by the 20 Catalyst Award finalists.

Benefiting from a Multidisciplinary Team of Advisors

The CTSI Catalyst Award program is part of a campus-wide effort to fulfill UCSF’s vision of being the world preeminent health sciences innovator, according to June Lee, MD, director of CTSI’s Early Translational Research (ETR) program, which manages and funds the award program. That includes collaborating with the thriving biotech industry in the Bay Area and other campus partners such as UCSF’s Innovation, Technology and Alliances and the California Institute of Quantitative Biosciences (QB3).

Catalyst Awards, Fall 2012 Cycle Winners:

Mary Nakamura, MD, associate professor in residence in the UCSF School of Medicine: “A Recombinant Fusion Protein that redirects VEGF to actively kill cancer cells: R1FasL”;

Naomi Stotland, MD, UCSF associate professor: "Pregnancy Weight Gain Coach – A Smartphone App” focused on incorporating the latest behavioral and epidemiologic research maintain healthy weight gain during pregnancy;

Marshall Stoller, MD, professor; Aenor Sawyer, MD, assistant clinical professor; and Herman Bagga, MD, resident physician: “A Novel Device to Promote Ambulation of the Hospitalized Patient” to promote ambulation of hospitalized patients;

Jonah Chan, PhD, associate professor: “A Binary Indicant of Myelination using Micropillar Arrays: A high-throughput screening platform for identifying remyelination therapeutics for Multiple Sclerosis” to efficiently screen for new compounds to treat demyelinating diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis;

Leslee Subak, MD, professor: “Novel mHealth App (TakeControl) and Embedded Platforms (wearable devices) for Urinary Incontinence Treatment and Research” involving novel mHealth applications and embedded platforms (wearable devices) to treat and research urinary incontinence;

Lili Zhou, PhD, postdoctoral scholar, and Jeffrey Venstrom, MD, assistant professor: “Novel Strategies to Predict and Enhance the Activity of Natural Killer Cells Against Multiple Myeloma” to better understand responses to cancer immunotherapies and enable selection the most appropriate treatment, particularly in malignancies;

Anand S. Patel, MD, resident physician, and Steven Hetts, MD, assistant professor: "ChemoFilter: A Novel Device for High-Dose Chemotherapy Delivery" to develop an intravenous chemotherapy filter catheter to optimize chemotherapy dosage for tumors;

Catherine Park, MD, associate professor, and Mekhail Anwar, MD, PhD: "Development of a Real-Time Intraoperative Fluorescent Imager for Microscopic Residual Tumor" to create a device to assist surgeons with identification and visualization of tumor tissue during surgery;

Nancy Boudreau, PhD, professor: “Topical HoxA5 gene therapy for Squamous Cell Carcinoma” to develop a new therapeutic modality for treatment of squamous cell carcinoma.

• Representing another unique aspect of the Catalyst Awards, UCSF faculty Michael Harrison, MD, professor, and Shuvo Roy, PhD, associate professor, are also being supported with pilot funds to conduct experiments that address key product development concerns and help the researchers get to a point when a decision can be made to proceed or abandon the effort.

Each project is supported by a uniquely comprised multidisciplinary team of industry executives, funders, intellectual property attorneys and regulatory specialists selected from more than 100 Catalyst Award Advisors who offer a range of expertise from academia, industry and venture capital.

Since launching in early 2010, the awards have supported dozens of UCSF researchers engaged in early translational research that has resulted in new intellectual property, additional funding and strategic industry partnerships.

Traditional funding mechanisms, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have generally not funded this type of research, Lee noted.

“Even the most promising discoveries often require substantial early development work, which can be difficult and expensive,” she said. “We’re working to bridge this funding and capability gap by finding a partner in industry that can either fund the next steps or provide key reagents or techniques, and collaborating with our team of Catalyst Advisors.”

One of those advisors is Pamela Klein, MD, founder and president of PMK BioResearch and former vice president of oncology at Genentech. “Academic institutions do basic science and biology really well, and being able to partner their researchers with folks like myself, who are on the side and have been very involved in drug development, is really combining the best of both worlds,” she said.

Focusing on Digital Health

New for the Fall 2012 cycle is the inclusion of digital health (dHealth) among the areas of focus for the Catalyst Awards.

“It’s critical in the exploding field of digital health that we have the frontline innovators — clinicians and researchers — at the table as we work to improve health care technology,” said Michael Blum, MD, the chief medical information officer at the UCSF Medical Center and a campus leader in digital health. “We are here to create the space and environment where these partnerships and innovation will flourish.”

Aenor Sawyer, an assistant clinical professor and associate director of the Digital Health Catalyst Awards agrees: “Clinicians and researchers have key contributions to make in conceiving, developing and evaluating health care solutions that incorporate digital technology. However we need to partner with experts from many different fields to get from idea to impact, our ultimate goal.”

Naomi Stotland, MD, an associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Health, won one of the awards in the digital health category to develop a smartphone app that incorporates the latest behavioral and epidemiologic research to maintain healthy weight gain during pregnancy. Stotland says the technology and business resources that come with the award will allow her to focus on how the app will help patients.

“I’m a clinician who is trained to be a doctor and take care of patients, so I don’t know very much about launching a product or digital health in general, except as a consumer,” she said. “It’s been tremendously educational and valuable to have the support of the whole team and the different types of expertise in licensing, legal, etc.”

Reaching Out Across Campus

Researchers interested in the Catalyst Awards can take a brief survey to determine if it is the right fit or contact the Catalyst Award team for an initial consultation. Spring 2013 proposals are currently being reviewed, and the next funding cycle will be in Fall 2013.

Is the Catalyst Award right for you? Take the survey

Learn more about CTSI’s Catalyst Award program

“Throughout the year, the Catalyst Awards team works with researchers at all levels to engage them in translational aspects of their research programs and to help drive their early stage ideas toward clinical utilization,” said Irina Gitlin, PhD, senior program manager for CTSI’s ETR program.

To broaden the value of this unique private-public partnership model, the Catalyst program now includes medical, graduate and postdoctoral students and postdocs in the program through an internship program. Interns are offered the opportunity to learn about the process of translating research findings into clinically beneficial products through observation of the Catalyst review process. Those interested in applying can learn more here.

“It was eye-opening to see how so many diverse skills sets are required to successfully translate cutting-edge research into a product that changes people's lives,” said Justin Rettenmaier, a UCSF graduate student. “This definitely expands my view of my job prospects beyond the conventional bench researcher in academia or industry.”

UCSF's CTSI is a member of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards network funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (Grant #UL1 TR000004) at the NIH. Under the banner of "Accelerating Research to Improve Health," CTSI provides a wide range of resources and services for researchers, and promotes online collaboration and networking tools such as UCSF Profiles.

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