Mentors for Bear Cub Fund program to help WUSTL scientists commercialize discoveries

In recent years, more than $1.1 million funneled to Washington University scientists through the Bear Cub Fund program has helped move university technologies into the marketplace.

To encourage entrepreneurship, the Bear Cub Fund program is now providing more hands-on guidance and incorporating other changes to help university scientists commercialize their discoveries. The program supports innovative translational research not normally backed by federal grants. These types of studies are needed to help researchers demonstrate the commercial potential of their technology.

“Many scientists have expressed an interest in the Bear Cub program, but they aren’t quite sure how to present their ideas or develop a proposal,” says Bradley Castanho, PhD, who heads the university’s Office of Technology Management (OTM), which oversees the program. “We think providing mentors and hands-on assistance is essential to cultivating entrepreneurs, and we are tapping into the resources of the university’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.”

With the changes to the Bear Cub program, the application process now involves two stages. Initially, researchers will submit a short, one-page application and give a two-minute oral “pitch” about their technology. Scientists will have the opportunity to attend a training session to learn how to craft their pitch.

The initial Bear Cub application is due Dec. 10, and researchers will pitch their ideas at a competition in early January. Up to eight winners will each receive $1,000 to help draft a full Bear Cub proposal that will be due in February. A key component of drafting the final proposal will be working with a business mentor.

Outside organizations that foster entrepreneurship, including BioSTL, BioGenerator and InnovateVMS, will play an active role in the Bear Cub selection process and provide mentors who can offer their advice and expertise.

Since 2008, five start-up companies have been launched from Bear Cub-funded technologies. These start-ups feature a cross-section of university research in nanotechnology, cardiac imaging, cancer diagnostics, surgical mesh development and treatment for blood vessel injury following heart attacks or surgery.
“The rising profile of Washington University technologies continues to attract interest from potential investors and start-up companies,” Castanho says. “The Bear Cub program is one way we can identify academic research that has commercial potential.”

Bear Cub grants support scientists in proof-of-concept studies that are not typically funded by traditional sources but are key to generating commercial interest.

The five start-up companies founded around Bear Cub support since 2008:

  • Vasculox focuses on developing humanized antibodies to treat ischemia reperfusion injury, the tissue damage that can occur when blood flow is temporarily interrupted and later restored. The injury is a common problem following organ transplantation. Vasculox is based on research by William Frazier, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular biophysics.
  • CardioWise, based on technology developed by Michael Pasque, MD, professor of surgery, and Brian Cupps, MD, research associate professor of surgery, seeks to advance a novel MRI-based cardiac imaging and analysis technique to create highly accurate 3D models of the heart.
  • Retectix centers on creating a synthetic polymer mesh made of individual strands of nanofibers that could be used to repair injuries to the brain and spinal cord. The technology is based on the research of Matthew MacEwan, a Washington University MD, PhD student.
  • RadTargX focuses on developing novel therapies for cancer treatment using monoclonal antibodies. The company is based on discoveries by Dennis Hallahan, MD, the Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Professor of Medicine.
  • Acuplaq seeks to develop a new nanomedicine for the treatment of blood clots. The nanotherapeutic has the potential to detect abnormal clotting and deactivate thrombin, an essential clotting enzyme. The technology is based on research by Samuel Wickline, MD, the J. Russell Hornsby Professor of Biomedical Sciences.

In addition to these start-ups, three other Bear Cub technologies are being closely followed by a major pharmaceutical company and four others are closer to a working prototype, based on ongoing research and development.

In the past four years, Bear Cub funds have supported 26 projects, of which 15 have been completed. In all, the funding has supported emerging technologies in medical devices (5 projects); cancer therapy (3 projects); medical conditions (8 projects); diagnostics (5 projects); treatment of infectious diseases (3 projects), and imaging and data analysis software (2 projects).

Bear Cub funds are distributed by OTM through a competitive application process. To be eligible for submission, scientists must have filed with OTM an invention disclosure for their technology. Individual grants range from $20,000 to $75,000, and studies that are selected for funding must be completed within one year.

“The success of the Bear Cub program highlights the many ways in which academic institutions like Washington University can be engines of economic development,” Castanho says. “Commercializing new technologies not only benefits the university but has the potential to improve the lives of patients worldwide.”

In addition to start-ups that have emerged from Bear Cub-funded projects, eight additional start-ups have been formed in the past five years from Washington University research.

More information about the the Bear Cub Fund application process is available here. The one-page application is here.