Bear Cub Fund awards its first round of grants

The University Bear Cub Fund has awarded its first round of grants to assist technology transfer efforts involving faculty members who want to move ideas from the research laboratory to commercial enterprises.

Roger D. Chamberlain, D.Sc., associate professor of computer science and engineering, and Elliot L. Elson, Ph.D., the Alumni Endowed Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, are the first two recipients of Bear Cub grants. Each physician received $40,000.

“There’s a financial gap between the laboratory and the board room of the venture capitalist,” said Theodore J. Cicero, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research. “Before a venture capitalist will fund a new idea, there must be some proof of concept, some recognizable foundation upon which a company might be built.”

Cicero and Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton created the Bear Cub Fund to support faculty in applied research studies that would not normally be supported by federal grants. The fund supports investigators of short-term research projects as they work to make promising technologies more attractive for licensing to commercial investors.

“We recognize that Washington University should play a pivotal role in the generation of knowledge that gets commercialized in this region,” Cicero said.

The Bear Cub Fund, which has been in existence since November, is administered through the University’s research office. The fund is made up of endowment income and capital from private sources. Cicero plans to offer investigators grants totaling about $250,000 each year.

For this round of funding, a selection committee of senior faculty and members of the business and technology investment community reviewed 13 grant applications. Investigators applied for $20,000-$60,000, one-year grant awards.

Chamberlain plans to use the Bear Cub grant to assist in designing and building a system that will make database searches up to 100 times faster than conventional approaches. Speeding up such searches will assist computer users who are forced to sift through more data as some 1.5 million Web pages are added to the Internet each day. The project also aims to speed up sequence matching in searches of genomic databases.

Elson’s grant will fund work on a system to improve the screening of chemical compounds thought to have therapeutic potential. Typical screening methods provide little or no information about biological responses to chemical compounds. Elson is developing a screening method that measures cellular responses to candidate drugs.

The fund will support up to eight projects annually. The next grant application deadline is May 5.