Published October 19, 2016 on UMB News.

Scientists, UM Ventures Firm Win Innovation Awards

October 19, 2016    |   By Patricia Fanning

Two University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) researchers and a UM Ventures startup company stemming from the University’s tech transfer efforts received financial awards to accelerate the commercial development of their biomedical inventions into treatments and devices to meet today’s health challenges.

For the last eight years, the UMB Commercial Advisory Board and the Johns Hopkins Alliance for Science and Technology have held a yearly meeting of faculty of both universities, advisors and potential investors to explore pathways to commercializing inventions created in the universities’ laboratories, and encourage entrepreneurship among faculty members.

Earlier in October, $200,000 was awarded to faculty and startup companies from both universities. UMB inventors competed for a UM Ventures Award and one of two Abell Foundation Awards. UM Ventures start-ups presented their companies for the chance to win a UM Ventures Start-up Award.

This year’s UMB-affiliated awards went to:

* Jerimy Polf, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine (SOM), won the $50,000 Abell Foundation award for his work on developing a gamma-radiation imaging system that can accurately verify the proper dose of treatments to patients. The system is based on imaging of proton beam treatment during its delivery—creating three-dimensional images of gamma- and x-ray sources with just one camera.

* The technology could also be used for tissue identification and analysis, and imaging of radioactive tracers used in medicine. Early proof-of-concept studies have shown the technical viability of his invention. The Abell Foundation award provides Polf the opportunity to further develop his prompt gamma imaging technology into a commercial prototype system that can be seamlessly integrated into a wide range of proton beam radiotherapy centers. He plans to advance and test the clinical design of his imaging and software system to be universally compatible with established patient treatment workflows and produce true “real-time” imaging capabilities for clinicians to monitor the actual treatment delivered during proton radiotherapy.

* Robert Ernst, professor at the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis at the School of Dentistry and an SOM adjunct professor, received a $25,000 UM Ventures Award for his work developing a new method to treat bacterial sepsis, a blood-borne bacterial infection that affects approximately one million people in the United States. Currently, there are no FDA-approved therapeutics for the treatment of the cytokine storm associated with advanced sepsis. Sepsis caused by Gram-negative bacteria is dependent on stimulation of Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) by the bacterial membrane component lipopolysaccharide (LPS). To inhibit TLR4 signaling at the ‘trigger’ event, Ernst has created novel anti-sepsis lipid A (ASLA) molecules for treatment of sepsis. Ernst plans to use the award money for testing ASLA in a pre-clinical meningococcal animal model of sepsis.

* Pataigin, a startup company founded by Ernst and by David Goodlett of the School of Pharmacy and based at Maryland’s IMET in Baltimore, received a $25,000 Maryland Department of Commerce Life Award for its patented technology using bacterial lipid biomarkers to rapidly and accurately diagnose bacterial and fungal infections. Pataigin has developed a test, called BACLIB, that inexpensively identifies bacteria and fungi causing infections in less than an hour, allowing clinicians to make decisions at the “point-of-care.” The technology can also be used in industrial testing for contamination by pathogens, avoiding expensive manufacturing interruptions and possibly even product recalls. Pataigin plans on using its award funding to validate tests for high-priority antibiotic-resistant microbes such as ESKAPE pathogens, which include Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterobacter.

In addition to the awards, the winners (as well as all participants) received advice from seasoned advisers on commercialization strategies and navigating the road to marketing a new health product.

The awards were made possible from Robert Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, and the Maryland State Department of Commerce.

In addition to the award winners, UMB inventors presenting their technologies included Steven L. Bernstein MD, PhD, Matthew B. Frieman, PhD; Edward H. Herskovits, MD, PhD; Antonino Passaniti, PhD; Erik de Leeuw, PhD; andJeffrey S. Wolf, MD. UM Ventures companies also included Educational and Scientific, Living Pharma, SilcsBio, SurgiGyn and Tesserae Medical.

“We are very pleased to see the incredible growth of faculty entrepreneurship since the formation of the UMB New Ventures group two and a half years ago, and equally proud of our faculty’s enthusiasm for, and dedication to, translational research,” said Phil Robilotto, chief commercialization officer of UM Ventures. “Baltimore has a vibrant biohealth community underscored by the work being done at our universities. These awards celebrate the confluence of collaboration and invention, two crucial ingredients for developing new treatments, devices and diagnostics.”

Please visit UM Ventures to learn more about these inventors and companies.