President’s Entrepreneurial Fellows Get First-hand Experience Working in Biotech Startups

2023-2024 President’s Entrepreneurial Fellows

Published on UM Ventures website | July 10, 2024

The President’s Entrepreneurial Fellowship (PEF) encourages innovation and discovery, peeling back the curtain on biotech entrepreneurism and giving students an up-close look at working in biotech startup companies.

Each year, the UM Ventures, Baltimore team selects a small cohort of students and partners them with real-world startup companies that are commercializing University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) technologies. Through this hands-on experience, the students develop a unique perspective on advancing early-stage business ventures, learn about career paths they may not have known about or considered, and build a strong network that can support them throughout their academic career and after graduation.

The 2023-24 PEF cohort included nine students representing four of UMB’s seven schools:

  • Areej Alfaifi, University of Maryland School of Dentistry
  • Michael Anderson, University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM)
  • Jessica Cornell, UMSOM
  • Don Kim, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law (UMSOL)
  • Jonathan Shaham, UMSOL
  • Karndeep Singh, UMSOM
  • Min Ji Suh, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and UMSOL
  • Abigail Vigderman, UMSOM
  • Yuyi Zhu, UMSOM

An interdisciplinary cohort is a core strength of the PEF program. Students often spend most of their time at UMB surrounded by students and faculty in the same discipline. But in the real world, biotech companies employ people from a wide range of backgrounds. The PEF program not only gives students the experience of collaborating with people from different disciplines, it also helps expose students from non-science backgrounds, such as law, to biotech.

Rana Quraishi, PhD, the director of new ventures for UM Ventures, Baltimore, developed the PEF program to help students better understand the realities of working in a biotech startup and show them that it is a viable career path.

“The level of knowledge, education, and skill required for biotech entrepreneurs is greatly increased,” she commented. “Biotech companies encounter strict regulation, long development timelines, require large amounts of funding, and face higher risk of failure. It can take years or even decades before a commercially viable product is available for sale or a company is ready for a market exit. It’s not for the faint of heart and takes an enormous amount of determination, grit, and drive. But, it can be very rewarding.”

Each PEF cohort divides into several interdisciplinary teams to work on projects critical projects that help UMB startups advance. For the 2023-24 program, the students worked on three projects:

  • Project 1: The Fellows explored the use of pancreatic cancer-derived 3D organoids as a clinical tool to evaluate treatment response, supporting Isoprene Pharmaceuticals. Isoprene is a UMB startup that is focused on oncology applications of the novel small molecule Mnk1/2 protein degraders developed by co-founder and chief executive officer Vincent C. O. Njar, PhD, professor, Department of Pharmacology, UMSOM and head of the medicinal chemistry section in the Center for Biomolecular Therapeutics at the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, UMSOM.
  • Project 2: For this wet lab project, the Fellows worked with Otter Immuno-Oncology to investigate a potential combinational therapy for multiple myeloma. Otter Immuno-Oncology is a seed-stage, preclinical, immunology-focused biopharmaceutical company developing therapies with curative potential in areas of high unmet need in oncology. It is co-founded and led by Darryl Carter, MD, a venture advisor for UMB and one of the PEF program leaders.
  • Project 3: The Fellows dug into United States patent law to navigate how to protect a group of molecules. Their findings will help UMB and UMB startups protect pharmaceutical innovations that may at first appear to be similar to existing patented technologies.

The projects are designed to not only provide valuable support to the startups, but also to help the Fellows develop practical new skills and apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world situations.

“Through the fellowship, I have acquired new perspectives on biotech and developing new technologies,” said Yuyi Zhu. “Specifically how to tailor proposals to a specific audience whether that is for fellow scientists or for a broader audience of business associates.”

“Being able to apply my legal knowledge in a practical setting was incredibly rewarding,” Donald Kim commented. “It was a unique experience that I would not have been able to obtain in a traditional law school classroom environment.”

In addition to Dr. Quraishi, the PEF program is led by Darryl Carter, MD, and Linda Petrillo, PhD, MSc, research and alliance officer and ICTR pilot grant navigator at UMB. Drs. Quraishi and Carter are both seasoned biotech executives with deep experience in all aspects of company management while Dr. Petrillo brings over a decade of scientific research experience in both start-ups and academic settings. Together, all three of them mentor the Fellows.

“I always felt that the PEF leadership team had our best interests in mind and felt very supported,” said Karndeep Singh.

The PEF program, which will celebrate its tenth anniversary in the 2024-25 academic year, is open to all UMB students as well as students from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park. For more information or to apply, please visit