Bear Cub Challenge rebrands as LEAP, awards $250K to university teams

After 14 years as the “Bear Cub Challenge,” Washington University in St. Louis’ competition for inventors has received a new name: the LEAP Inventor Challenge, for Leadership in Entrepreneurial Acceleration Program.

The competition is open to all faculty, postdoctoral, staff and graduate student teams, and awards funding to those with translational research and inventions with the goal of advancing Washington University’s intellectual property toward commercialization. Facilitators of the competition rebranded so the competition’s name would better represent such a mission.

“The new name, LEAP Inventor Challenge, speaks to the goal of the competition — leaping from invention to impact,” said Emre Toker, managing director for the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, one of the competition facilitators.

The rebrand comes at the same time as the conclusion of the latest cycle of the challenge, which will award up to $250,000 in total to five Washington University research teams. Funds will be dispersed based on successful completion of milestones.

Award recipients include:

Sergej Djuranovic, assistant professor of cell biology and physiology at the School of Medicine, is developing a technology that fine-tunes gene expression to desirable amounts using engineered poly adenosine tags. This can become a new tool used in research labs or in pharmaceutical, agriculture, food and bioenergy industries.

 Brian A. Van Tine, MD, PhD, assistant professor of internal medicine at the School of Medicine, is using high-throughput screening to identify compounds that inhibit cancer metabolism for the treatment of sarcomas and other rare tumors.

Jeffrey Milbrandt, MD, PhD, professor and head of the Department of Genetics, and Aaron DiAntonio, MD, PhD, professor of developmental biology, both at the School of Medicine, are developing new therapies to preserve the connections between nerve cells in the injured and diseased nervous system. These new therapies could be useful for preventing peripheral neuropathy and other neurological diseases.

Thomas Girard, assistant professor of internal medicine-hematology, George J. Broze, Jr., professor of internal medicine and hematology, and David B. Wilson, MD, PhD, director of pediatric hematology program and professor of pediatric hematology and oncology, all at the School of Medicine, are generating and evaluating novel antibodies for potential development into therapeutic agents that safely enhance blood coagulation in hemophiliacs and ameliorate their bleeding.

Ramesh Raliya, a research scientist at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, is developing fertilizer for agricultural crops that provide highly efficient nutrient use and eco-friendly solution at low cost to address food, energy and water nexus.

In addition to the Skandalaris Center, other university facilitators include the Office of Technology Management, the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences, the Center for Drug Discovery and the School of Engineering & Applied Science. Together, they provide mentorship, additional funding and other research resources to the applicants’ proposals.

Skandalaris Center officials announced that the deadline to apply for the upcoming LEAP Investor Challenge cycle ends Feb. 14; apply online or learn more at

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