NYC Scientists Score $250,000 Awards in Annual BioAccelerate Competition

5/25/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Five New York-based scientists—developing technologies ranging from replacement bones to prosthetic eyes—were named today as the winners of the 2011 BioAccelerate competition. Each will receive $250,000 from the New York City Investment Fund, which they will use to transform their technologies into commercial companies.

BioAccelerate was launched two years ago to fill a gaping funding hole: Scientists can obtain grants for basic research—like test-tube experiments—from the National Institutes of Health and other government sources, but they often struggle to raise money to do animal trials and other work that’s vital for attracting venture capital. As a result, many discoveries sit idle in university tech-transfer offices. “New York City has one of the most extensive pools of biomedical research,” says NYC Investment Fund’s CEO, Maria Gotsch. “But there’s a huge disconnect that prevents the commercialization of that science.”

The winners have big plans for their BioAccelerate awards. Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, has developed a method for making bone out of adult stem cells that are extracted from bone marrow or fat tissue. She hopes the product will someday be able to be used in facial reconstruction surgery, to replace jawbones that have been injured because of illness or accidents, for example. “We approached investors, but we’re too early for them,” she says. “They want to see it working in a large animal model.” Vunjak-Novakovic is now planning a trial of the replacement bone in pigs.

Some BioAccelerate winners plan to use the prize to advance human trials of their technologies. Michelle Bradbury, assistant attending radiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, has developed a process that uses a silica nanoparticle and hand-held imaging tools to improve detection of cancer cells in lymph nodes of metastatic melanoma patients. The prize will help fund the next human clinical study, Bradbury says, in which the technology will be used for “nodal mapping,” or the identification of cancer cells that have spread to the lymph nodes. “Determining how much the cancer has spread is really important,” Bradbury says, “because without that knowledge, a physician can’t determine which drug will work best in a patient.”

For New York University professor Mark Philips, BioAccelerate is helping sustain a research idea that Big Pharma has largely abandoned. Philips is studying Ras, a gene that is important in many cancers. Drugs to inhibit Ras have been disappointing so far, but Philips has developed a new way … Next Page »

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