UNMC group makes cut in UNO’s business plan competition

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OMAHA, Nebraska (April 26, 2017)—A group from the University of Nebraska Medical Center is believed to be the first to advance to the final round of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s seventh annual Maverick Business Plan competition tomorrow.

Orca Analytics

A screenshot of Orca Analytics’ interface that diagrams a theoretical student’s pathways to potential career options.

The group, primarily made up of current and former graduate students at UNMC, will pitch their plan for “Orca Analytics.” It’s a venture that uses data and predictive analytics to help guide collegiate advisers and their students to make the most of the educational experience. The cloud-based software application illuminates the most efficient path of courses for a student, presumably leading to better career options upon graduation. The same applications would also help advisers maintain a better sense of their students’ progression.

Members of the Orca team are Tim Bielecki and Will Payne, doctoral candidates at UNMC; Tyler Scherr, Ph.D., a recent UNMC graduate; and Ben Jones, co-founder of the graphic design firm, Labrat Design.

UNO’s business plan competition is sponsored by the College of Business Administration’s Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Franchising. Final presentations, five minutes each, are scheduled for Thursday, April 27, 2017, beginning at 6-7:15 p.m. at Mammel Hall. Guests can meet and greet all finalists during a meet and greet session at 5:15 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

A panel of judges will weigh the proposals for market opportunity, practicality and impact to determine the winners. Cash awards will be presented to the top three finishers, with $3,000 going to the first place, $2,000 to second place, and $1,000 to the third place finishers.

An additional prize will be awarded to the plan that best “incorporates sustainability,” and audience members will have a chance to win $300 in door prizes.

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My first AUTM

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Tech transfer newbie relates her first experience at AUTM’s annual conference

by Catherine Murari-Kanti, UNeMed | April 19, 2017

My last experience at a conference involved standing in front of a scientific poster for hours, and listening to scientific talks that almost always went over the allotted time. I remember the atmosphere as closed-off and secretive. I was warned not to share data or information about the science I was working on. I vividly remember standing in the hallway thinking, “This is not where I want be.”

Not now.

Not ever.

That was so 2014.

I am now a Licensing Associate now at UNeMed Corporation, the technology transfer office at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. UNeMed gave me the opportunity to attend Association of University Technology Managers’ 2017 Annual Meeting in Hollywood, Fla. I noticed a stark difference in cultures between the two conferences.

AUTM 2017 was an open environment that involved sharing each other’s expertise, and a desire to see others succeed. This was evident in the first-time attendee’s reception where I met a dozen people who willingly took the time to get to know me, ask questions about my role at UNeMed and provide tech transfer career development advice. I interacted with industry and seasoned tech transfer professionals, and I enjoyed talking to them. They shared with me their journey, and warned me of pitfalls they experienced.

Overall, the atmosphere was one of interaction, learning and growth.

Of the many sessions I attended, a few stood out:

1. I learned about the innovation life cycle, and how important it is to communicate effectively within and out of the technology transfer office. The panelists did an exceptional job during the session, “Telling and Re-telling your Office’s Story.” They shared how their offices amplified the story of each invention, and how they aligned it with the University’s mission. They shared timelines, expressed the importance of reciprocal relationships with University public relations as well as local news media. They stressed the need to generate technology content on their websites, and allow inventors to tell their stories. The panelists were Quentin Thomas, Marketing Manager at Emory University; Paul Tumarkin, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications at Tech Launch Arizona; and Sara Dagen, Technical Editor at the University of Florida’s Office of Technology Licensing.

2. The other session I really enjoyed was, “Communication skills for Licensing Professionals,” by Julie Watson, Special Counsel at Marshall Gerstein IP; Lina Axanova, Associate Director at Penn Center for Innovation; Leef Smith Barnes, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at AUTM; and John Christie, Executive Director of the Office of Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Development at Tulane University . This was important to me as a beginner in tech transfer because it taught me how to interpret scientific, legal and business languages. They shared nuggets of wisdom pertaining to listening, business email etiquette, negotiation language and conflict resolution. I learned that communication mostly involves active listening, and practicing firm but empathetic conversations.

3. Another panel—Christopher Noble, Technology Licensing Officer at MIT; Kathleen Denis, Associate VP at Rockefeller University; Duke Leahey, Founder of Nidus Investments; and Kelly Sexton, Asst. Vice Chancellor for Technology Commercialization and New Ventures at North Carolina State University—discussed different methods of collaborating with companies for industry sponsored research. They talked about deciding who should be the Chief Executive Officer of a startup: the student or the principle investigator? They shed light on the various intellectual property obstacles that tech transfer offices run into during industry sponsored research as well as when setting up a new company. The panelists spent significant time on de-risking technologies before presenting to industry, which I thought was important and significant as I start my career.

4. UNeMed President and CEO, Michael Dixon, was one of the panelists—along with Alicia Loffler, Associate Provost for Innovation and New Ventures at Northwestern University; Lesley Millar-Nicholson, Director at MIT’s Technology Licensing Office; and Neil Veloso, Executive Director of Technology Transfer at Johns Hopkins University —in the session, “Creating a Sustainable Culture for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” Each panelist gave a short talk about their various programs to improve faculty engagement and invention reporting. They stressed the importance of developing an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset within local communities that, in turn, would produce angel investors and startups. They shared ideas and programs that provided tech transfer resources to their students, post-docs and faculty.

5. The innovation keynote speaker, Kavita Shukla, mesmerized the audience with her captivating story of innovation and entrepreneurship. She talked about her innovation, FreshPaper, and the arduous task of establishing a startup company, Fenugreen. FreshPaper is bio-degradable paper infused with organic spices and herbs that inhibit bacterial and fungal growth providing an effective solution to food spoilage. Fenugreen is a social enterprise taking on the massive global challenge of food waste with a simple innovation.

She said she avoided a serious case of traveler diarrhea when she visited India at the age of 12, because of a spice-filled drink her grandmother gave her. The drink then led her to develop FreshPaper in her garage. She talked about being a gawky 16-year-old, “walking into the patent office” to file her first patent on FreshPaper. She dreamed of providing food to nations that didn’t have refrigeration. “Doubt kills more dreams than failure will,” she said. And she shared how she pushed through every obstacle thrown at her.

She challenged individuals to dream, to design new products and to talk to everyone possible about their ideas until they can find someone that can help them move forward. She was glad for the existence of tech transfer offices because she believes they have the power to support these dreams and ideas, and make innovation happen.

Her talk encouraged me as a woman, and as a tech transfer professional, to support other women to succeed and become innovators and entrepreneurs.

 

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Concussion detection startup Avert selected for national demo day

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Avert CEO Preston Badeer presents his company’s concussion technology during UNeMed’s 2016 Demo Day event in October. (File photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 6, 2017)—Avert, an Omaha company developing a concussion-detection device, was one of just 40 university startup companies selected for a national demo day later this month.

Based on research by Nick Stergiou, Ph.D., director of UNO’s Department of Biomechanics, the device uses a person’s balance as a way to measure brain health.

All healthy people make constant, subconscious adjustments to their balance as they stand in place. Dr. Stergiou’s innovative approach was to find a way to recognize the hidden patterns in those adjustments. After a person suffers a brain injury, such as a concussion, it changes the pattern of those subconscious adjustments.

Even when a person exhibits no outward symptoms, Avert’s technology can still detect the injury without relying on subjective questionnaires or clinical judgements.

Using the device would be similar to standing on a bathroom scale for about 30 seconds.

Hosted by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer, the University Startups Conference and Demo Day begins the three-day event on April 18. Organizers plan to bring together more than 300 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, industry professionals, angel investors, and corporate executives, among others.

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Startup will develop blood test for unstable coronary artery disease

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OMAHA, Nebraska (March 27, 2017)—A startup accelerator, Academic Technology Ventures, is building a new biomedical startup company with an invention created at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The startup, HealthCheck, is based on a biomarker discovered at UNMC that could help doctors and cardiologists more accurately diagnose different types of coronary artery disease.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha—Michael Duryee (left), Geoff Thiele (center) and Dan Anderson (right)—believe they found a way to determine who will develop potentially deadly heart disease with a simple blood test. (UNeMed file photo)

“Currently, there’s no way to differentiate the 47-year-old with stable coronary artery disease from the one who suddenly drops dead in his drive-way,” said Joe Runge, the Director of Business Development at UNeMed, the technology transfer office at UNMC.

HealthCheck’s blood test could give healthcare providers the insight to predict which patients are likely to develop the more dangerous, unstable form of coronary artery disease.

“It solves a huge problem,” said Corey Park, chairman and founder of Academic Technology Ventures. “That would be key for a doctor to be able to say, ‘Hey, change your lifestyle now.'”

Coronary artery disease is the accumulation of plaques inside the arteries. Recent research has shown that virtually everyone, regardless of age, has some form of the disease. Some people have a stable, non-life-threatening form of the disease. Others have the more dangerous, unstable version.

In the unstable, and usually lethal, form of the disease, large deposits of plaque can break open, creating one of two life-threatening problems.

A piece of dislodged plaque might be swept away in the blood stream. The debris could then wedge itself further downstream, acting as a dam that cuts off blood flow to the heart. Or, back at the rupture site, clotting factor and blood platelets rush to the injury. In the process they create a similar bottleneck that reduces or cuts off blood flow.

The result of either scenario is a sudden heart attack or a stroke.

Telling the difference between stable and unstable coronary artery disease has been a stubborn riddle of medicine until a trio of UNMC scientists developed the new blood test. The inventors are Geoff Thiele, Ph.D., a professor of internal medicine; Michael Duryee, a research coordinator in the College of Medicine; and Dan Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., a professor and practicing cardiologist at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine.

They found that patients with unstable coronary artery disease also had in their blood large amounts of certain molecule known as MAA, which is short for malondialdehyde–acetaldehyde.

A blood test that looks specifically for the MAA molecule would give healthcare providers a better picture of a patient’s health. Rather than using a simple blood pressure reading or cholesterol count, a high MAA count could help a physician prescribe a more effective course.

“I’ve lost family members to heart disease,” said Jason Pottinger, the director of business strategy at Academic Technology Ventures. “I have family members right now with heart disease. I think they would have benefitted greatly from some real, hard evidence that would be like a slap in the face. A slap in the face to say, ‘Listen, this is science, and this is where you’re heading. Don’t be a statistic.'”

HealthCheck will initially set up in New Jersey, where the company is expected to raise additional capital to support further testing. The additional tests will be used to secure FDA clearance, and hopefully enter the market within the next two or three years, Park said.

“Best-case scenario is this becomes a standardized test with yearly screenings,” Park said. “I think it’s got enough legitimacy to become—not necessarily mandated—but part of that regular regimen.”

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UNMC scientists achieve research milestone with Parkinson’s disease

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Drug that transforms immune system may predict motor improvement

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC

From left are Howard Gendelman, M.D., Pamela Santamaria, M.D., and R. Lee Mosley, Ph.D. (Photo: UNMC)

From left are Howard Gendelman, M.D., Pamela Santamaria, M.D., and R. Lee Mosley, Ph.D. (Photo: UNMC)

In an early phase human clinical trial, researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center tested a drug that transforms the immune system for diagnostic and therapeutic gain in Parkinson’s disease (PD).

The medicine was proven safe and generally well tolerated. Side effects were minimal, but included skin irritation, bone pain and an allergic reaction. Preliminary evidence of improvement in motor skills was observed and recorded in several of the treated patients, but validation will require larger patient enrollments.

PD ravages nearly one million Americans and generates direct and indirect costs of nearly $25 billion per year in the U.S. alone.

The findings – which appear today in the journal npj Parkinson’s Disease – mark a milestone for PD research. At the heart of the discovery was the immune transformation of disease-inciting circulating white blood cells (called effector T-cells or Teff) to cells that protect and defend against brain injury (called regulatory T cells or Treg). The drug changed neurodestructive Teff into functional neuroprotective Tregs.

The research team was headed by two UNMC scientists, Howard Gendelman, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience, and R. Lee Mosley, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience and head of the Movement Disorders Research Laboratory. The discovery results from more than two decades of laboratory and animal investigation.

The idea was conceived in cell studies then validated in animals. During each step, immune transformation was realized with the drug granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor (also known as Sargramostim® Sanofi-Genzyme Pharmaceuticals).

Importantly, such drug-induced transformation has not only been successful for PD but also holds promise for a range of neurodegenerative disorders that include Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

To conduct the Phase I clinical study, scientists partnered with 14 academic and community-based physicians and neuroscientists with extensive expertise in neurophysiology, bioimaging, clinical trials execution and movement disorders. The research was conducted in basic science laboratories at UNMC and Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. The study subjects were seen at UNMC’s clinical partner, Nebraska Medicine.

Clinical support was overseen at UNMC by Pamela Santamaria, M.D., a Nebraska Medicine neurologist and founder of Neurology Consultants of Nebraska; Danish Bhatti, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences; and by David Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of Neurology and director of the Division of Movement Disorders at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Using a blinded clinical study approach for investigation, the patients, their caregivers and their physicians could not tell whether the drug or a placebo was being administered.

The drug was found to produce significant and encouraging changes in the production of Treg cells in the blood of patients. These same changes did not take place in patients who received the placebo. Initial clinical observations proved encouraging and varied in intensity between patients, Dr. Gendelman said.

During the trial, physiological brain improvements were seen in specific motor areas of the brain for those patients receiving Sargramostim. This was recorded through the use of magnetoencephalography by a research team headed by Tony Wilson, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair, basic/translational research for UNMC and director of the Magnetoencephalography Laboratory in the Department of Neurological Sciences.

Blood metabolites known to increase the number of neuroprotective Treg cells were observed in parallel studies on the same blood samples used to record the immune biomarkers. These biochemical studies were performed at the Scripps Research Institute by Gary Siuzdak, Ph.D., professor and director, Scripps Center for Metabolomics and Mass Spectrometry.

Doses of L-DOPA and other dopamine-sparing drugs used to treat PD were continued to all study subjects throughout the study.

“To our knowledge, this study represents the first time immune transformation was performed on any patient with neurodegenerative disease,” Dr. Mosley said.

Dr. Gendelman said the next step will be a broader study that will include larger patient numbers. This is being planned in the next one to two years, he said, after the manufacture of an oral medicine.

For more information on the study, call 402-559-6941.

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Complete technology portfolio is now available

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OMAHA, Nebraska (March 23, 2017)—All technologies available for partnering and licensing opportunities through UNeMed are now easier to access.

UNeMed’s complete technology portfolio is available in a single document that can be downloaded, printed or mailed. Digital versions of the portfolio are free and can be viewed and downloaded here or below.

Printed copies of the 84-page booklet are also available, and free copies can be found at UNeMed’s office. Booklets are printed as-needed, so immediate supplies are limited. Printed copies can also be mailed, but will require a $3 fee to offset shipping and handling costs. Mail orders can be placed here.

The UNeMed portfolio describes all the top technologies from UNMC’s and UNO’s talented researchers. Also included are details about UNeMed’s most promising startup companies.

Digital versions of the portfolio will be regularly updated to include the most recent innovation disclosures, and to remove recently licensed technologies that are no longer available.

Any questions about UNeMed’s Technology Portfolio can be directed to Charlie Litton at charles.litton@unmc.edu or 402-559-2468.

UNeMed Technology Portfolio by UNeMed Corporation on Scribd

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ProTransit lands $1.7 million DOD grant for treating spinal injuries

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ProTransit Nanotherapy president and CEO Gary Madsen, Ph.D., (center) shows off a vial of prototypes that could one day be incorporated into skin care products such as sunscreen and cosmetics. The nanoparticles, formulated by scientists Steve Curran and Bala Vamsi Karuturi, Ph.D.,(left) and Steve Curran (right), are vehicles that can deliver powerful antioxidants to the deepest layers of skin where they can help prevent skin cancer, wrinkles and blemishes.

ProTransit Nanotherapy president and CEO Gary Madsen, Ph.D., (center) shows off a vial of prototypes that could one day be incorporated into skin care products such as sunscreen and cosmetics. The nanoparticles, formulated by scientists Steve Curran and Bala Vamsi Karuturi, Ph.D.,(left) and Steve Curran (right), are vehicles that can deliver powerful antioxidants to the deepest layers of skin where they can help prevent skin cancer, wrinkles and blemishes.

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 7, 2017)—A $1.7 million grant from the Department of Defense is expected to push Omaha startup ProTransit Nanotherapy closer to FDA approval on a new treatment for acute spinal injuries, according to a press release issued today.

A portion of the award will help ProTransit use UNMC’s Nebraska Nanomedicine Production Plant to optimize the production of a proprietary nanoparticle. The nanoparticle was invented by former UNMC researcher Vinod Labhasetwar, Ph.D.

Now a professor of biomedical engineering at Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Labhasetwar’s innovative nanoparticle has shown dramatic potential when injected immediately after a spinal injury. Called Pro-NP™, the technology has shown the ability to prevent further damage to the spinal cord. It may also encourage the body’s natural repair mechanism to heal the injury, the release said.

Further tests will be a deeper study of the overall treatment effects. If successful, results from those studies will then drive an investigational new drug application with the FDA—a critical first step toward a clinical trial in human patients. Spine surgeon and Canada Research Chair in Spinal Injury, Brian Kwon, M.D., Ph.D., will lead the additional studies out of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

According to the press release, the grant attracted interest from the DOD for its potential to be used in battlefield conditions, either “on site or en route to a trauma center.” The technology also has clear civilian applications as a treatment that paramedics could inject in emergencies.

In addition to the new spinal treatment, ProTransit is also developing a topical skin application that could prevent skin cancer while eliminating or reducing wrinkles and other blemishes.

ProTransit Nanotherapy was co-founded by Dr. Labhasetwar and CEO Gary Madsen, Ph.D. Dr. Madsen is the former Entrepreneur in Residence at UNeMed, the technology transfer office at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

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‘Valley of Death’ funding program lifts UNMC innovations

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Greg Gordon, M.D., aligns a prototype of his patented Lock-Block radiation shield during a round of early tests. Dr. Gordon built his own startup company, Radux Devices, around inventions designed to better protect physicians from radiation.

OMAHA, Nebraska (Feb. 21, 2017)—Officials at the University of Nebraska Medical Center reviewed their use of the Nebraska Research Initiative’s Proof-of-Concept or POC grant funding program. The review found that despite its relatively modest use, the program has consistently delivered powerful results.

POC grants focus on research innovations and discoveries in danger of slipping into an academic research limbo known as the “Valley of Death.” Innovations that slide into this no-man’s land are usually too advanced to warrant additional funding from various federal agencies, but still too early in development to attract commercial or industrial funding.

The POC grant program at the University of Nebraska was created to fill those gaps for research projects. The program is most often used at UNMC for new biomedical discoveries that have high potential to “improve healthcare for Nebraska and beyond,” said Michael Dixon, the CEO at UNeMed, which performed the review.

“This is one of the few sources of gap funding we have,” Dixon said. UNeMed is the technology transfer and commercialization office for UNMC. UNeMed also works with inventors at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“Without POCs,” Dixon added, “we’d have more than a dozen technologies just dying on the vine. That’s a dozen potential treatments, cures and better outcomes that industry just isn’t ready to invest in. But they’re all moving forward now thanks to this program, and several are now receiving financial support from industry. That’s a huge credit to our leaders in the legislature and at the University. They made it happen.”

Over the five-year history of the program, 17 grants totaling $2.78 million have been approved for UNMC and UNO biomedical innovations.

More specifically, the grants led directly to the creation of four startups companies; four new partnerships with biomedical companies; at least $525,000 in additional federal research funding; and another $1.3 million from industrial partners to support of University research. And one UNMC startup company, armed with data produced from a POC-funded study, was able raise an additional $300,000 from outside investors.

POC grants at UNMC and UNO have also led to advanced prototypes of medical devices and drug treatments that move the technologies closer toward their first clinical trials and product launches.

Approval for a POC grant typically requires significant feedback from a potential industrial or commercial partner who is interested in developing the technology.

For example, a company might be interested in a UNMC innovation, if only the researcher could show the result of a particular test. That test result alone could determine whether a new cancer drug or medical device advances closer to market. But with no additional research funds, the innovation will often lie in wait, rarely seen or heard from again.

The POC grants often pay for those additional tests, delivering the results needed to move a technology closer to market.

“The companies interested in these technologies, they just aren’t always in a position to handle the risk of paying for these additional studies,” said UNeMed’s Director of Business Development, Joe Runge. “These tests aren’t just things we pull out of our ears. This is in line with the things that industry needs to see before investing significant time and treasure.”

A new simulator invented at the University of Nebraska Medical Center uses video game technology to teach laparoscopic surgery to residents pressed by work hour restrictions.

Reducing the amount of risk involved for companies is a large part of what makes the program successful, said David Jackson, the University of Nebraska’s Vice Provost who administers the Nebraska Research Initiative and its POC program.

“This is high risk for us too,” Jackson said, “but if someone doesn’t take the risk, then these technologies stay dormant. Just to leave a technology on the table is a lost opportunity.”

He added: “We take that risk because of the potential for moving technologies out the door in a way that’s going to benefit all Nebraskans.”

The NRI was originally created in 1988 as a state-funded program to build research capacity and expertise throughout the University system. Later, in 2011, a small portion of that funding was directed to POC grants, or what Dixon at UNeMed calls “Valley of Death funding.”

About 6 percent of the NRI budget goes to POC funding at all campuses in the University of Nebraska system, Jackson said.

“Looking back, the state deserves a ton of credit for their foresight in setting up the NRI to begin with,” Dixon said. “It helped grow this research engine to the beast it is today. I can’t imagine what this POC program might lead to in another 20 years; what the biomedical sector in Nebraska might look like; all the jobs it might produce. It could be transformative for our local economy, not to mention all the medical benefits we might see.”

At UNMC, all of UNeMed’s approved POC grants resulted in eliminating unknowns and uncertainties for potential industry partners.

“We try to be judicious, and have partners in mind,” Jackson said. “I don’t count it a failure if something like a prototype doesn’t work. That tells you to stop the work, and move in a new direction. What’s a failure in my mind is if something gets funded that doesn’t answer a question industry needs.”

The first POC grant at UNMC, awarded in late 2011, funded a study that created the data necessary to support FDA clearance for a clinical trial. The technology is a unique drug that could allow doctors to diagnose, treat and track tumors in patients who suffer some of the most deadly forms of cancer.

The clear path to a clinical trial helped attract a serial entrepreneur from Kansas City who used the technology to create a startup company, Calidum, Inc. Calidum is now raising funds to perform the trial.

Another POC paid for a small clinical trial related to Parkinson’s disease. The trial yielded such encouraging results that a major pharmaceutical company is interested in repeating the study in a larger group of patients.

Two grants were awarded for UNO innovations created at the Biomechanics Research Building. One innovation led to an advanced prototype of a special insole that fits in a hospital slipper. Sensors within the insole then help predict the risk of falls for at-risk patients.

A look at the earliest version of a prototype developed by biomechanics researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for detecting an exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A POC grant from the Nebraska Research Initiative help create a wearable, advanced prototype that is expected to enter second clinical trial later this year.

A look at the earliest version of a prototype developed by biomechanics researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for detecting an exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A POC grant from the Nebraska Research Initiative help create a wearable, advanced prototype that is expected to enter second clinical trial later this year.

The other UNO-related grant paid for a study of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. The study produced so much information that researchers had to create a new invention just to interpret the data stream. That simple solution could be applied to several other inventions at UNOs biomechanics facility.

Yet another UNMC innovation led to a million-dollar research collaboration with a major pharmaceutical firm on a long-acting HIV treatment.

Various contractual and confidentiality agreements prevent UNeMed from disclosing company names and some technology details.

Other POC projects include:

  • A validation study for Radux Devices, a UNMC startup, proved the effectiveness of two devices that protect physicians from radiation exposure during procedures that require continuous x-ray imaging. Radux plans its first product launch later this year.
  • A project that identified an entirely new molecule to target treatment-resistant pancreatic cancer.
  • A study for a blood test to predict coronary artery disease.

A small grant that paid to train UNMC personnel how to operate a new portable simulator for minimally invasive procedures. The training tool is expected to go through its first round of public testing later this year at Creighton University.

Click here to learn more about POCs at UNMC and UNO

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UNMC research team discovers novel pharmaceutic action for HIV/AIDS

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Could allow patients to take multiple medications just once a month

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC

A research team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center has used a process they call LASER ART (long-acting slow effective release antiretroviral therapy) to discover an unexpected pathway to open cell storage areas for antiviral drugs. The discovery could revolutionize current treatments for HIV/AIDS by extending the actions of disease-combating medicines.

The LASER ART research breakthrough is significant, as the invention could be broadly applied. The discovery allows conventional drugs, taken once or twice/day, to be transformed into once a month dosing.

Such changes would ease the burden on patients and their caregivers.  The injectable drug bypasses oral absorption and brings the drug to body sites where the virus continues to hide in tissue sanctuaries.

The work is detailed in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, one of the world’s leading scientific journals reporting novel, high-impact translational research.

The 14-member research team was spearheaded by three members of the UNMC Department of Pharmacology/Experimental Neuroscience in the College of Medicine – Divya Prakash Gnanadhas, Ph.D., post-doctoral research associate, Santhi Gorantla, Ph.D., associate professor, and Howard Gendelman, M.D., professor and chair.  The team also included researchers from the UNMC College of Pharmacy.

Harris Gelbard, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Rochester Medical Center, discovered the pharmaceutical agent called URMC-099.

“This will likely have a strong global impact on HIV/AIDS health care,” said Dr. Gendelman, whose laboratory has pursued research for more than a decade on LASER ART. “Getting people to take medication every day is difficult. To be able to take medication once a month or even longer will make it much easier for patients to be compliant while at the same time help bring the drug to tissues of the body that are not easily reached by conventional medicines.”

The LASER ART developed by the UNMC scientists is a formulation of injectable drugs, he said. The long-lasting medication was developed by making pharmacological changes in the chemical structure of the drug, while at the same time protecting its abilities to contain infection.

The new drug formulation is not an anti-HIV medicine, Dr. Gorantla said, but rather one that opens storage areas inside cells where drugs can be maintained for a long period of time. This extends the intervals for dosing and allows physicians to administer the drug over an extended period of time.

Prior to this discovery, Dr. Gorantla said only two drugs had been modified in this fashion. Their use was limited, she said, because each injection would require several ounces of drug with larger volumes in each succeeding injection. This amount of drug given can potentially be cut in half with this new medication.

Dr. Gendelman said LASER ART enables drug crystals to reach destinations in tissues and blood and stay there. These drug crystals are protected against destruction (metabolism) in the liver and excretion in the kidney and urine.

To accomplish this, the scientists merged LASER ART with URMC-099, which alone has no antiviral effect. Co-administration with antiretroviral medicines provides enhanced viral suppression, Dr. Gorantla said.

The scientists discovered that several innovative strategies – slow drug dissolution, poor water-solubility and improved bioavailability – could bring the medication to the sites of active viral growth and accelerate clearance of the virus.

“We showed that one drug can deliver the other drug to sites inside the cells where the virus grows and at the same time sequester the drug crystals at sites protecting it from degradation,” she said. “The drug inside the cell slowly dissolves from the crystal and is released into the blood.

“This is a new way to extend the actions of drugs,” Dr. Gnanadhas said. “It is a means to improve drug effectiveness and to allow patients to take drugs without interruption.”

The drugs were formulated through UNMC’s good laboratory practice (GLP) manufacturing facility. Financial support for the project was provided by Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Deb Thomas.

Dr. Gendelman said the next step is to formulate URMC-099 with drug cocktails and investigate whether such a chemical marriage can extend the half lives of many other antiretroviral and a spectrum of other drugs. Ultimately, they hope to combine URMC-099 with drugs that have been limited for human use due to the frequency and bioavailability of their required dosing to be effective.

The research was supported in part by four institutes of the National Institutes of Health – the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute on Aging.

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The year in review: Highlights from 2016

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by Charles Litton, UNeMed | Jan. 25, 2017

As we close the books on another year of tech transfer—our 25th, to be precise—we wanted to take a moment to look back on the year that was. Here’s a review of some of the most important stories, developments, most popular posts and other highlights from UNeMed in 2016:

UNeMed hosted the Innovation Awards Ceremony and Reception on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. The awards recognize all UNMC faculty, students and staff who disclosed a new invention, secured a U.S. patent or licensed a technology during the previous fiscal year.

1. Innovation Week
Innovation Week has always been a consistent driver of traffic to the website. But each year seems to be bigger than the last, and 2016 was no exception. Our annual celebration of UNMC’s innovative research is anchored by the Innovation Awards Ceremony and Reception, which highlighted the impressive work coming from Irving Zucker’s labs (see below). But the 2016 festivities were special in another way: The series of events also highlighted the year as UNeMed’s 25th anniversary.

2. Industry Partnering Day
For something we downplayed as a low-key event, it sure hit a nerve. Our first Industry Partnering Day was a small, but focused group of researchers, investors and industry executives. The obvious goal was building stronger relationships between those groups, but we also hoped the event might help lift a few UNMC innovations to further development. The invitation-only event was a clear success, and that’s why we plan to do it again this year. This time around, however, we will focus on medical devices. If you think you should be invited, drop us a line.

3. Vein and arteries are more than mere pipes
There’s a lot more to veins and arteries than you might think. This popular blog post took a closer look at just how complex they are, and debunked the idea that they resemble the plumbing in your house. The post helped explain why things like atherosclerosis and kidney dialysis have an added layer of complexity due to the dynamic nature of veins and arteries.

4. 2016 Demo Day
UNeMed’s Technology Demonstration Day entered its fourth year in October 2016, highlighting a handful of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s top innovations. The event also featured two Nebraska biotech startups that were selected from a field of more than 200 applicants for a national demo day in Washington D.C.: Calidum and Orion BioScience.

Iriving Zucker, Ph.D., accepts the 2016 Innovator of the Year Award.

5. Zucker is Innovator of the Year
Irving Zucker, Ph.D., took home UNeMed’s top prize from the annual Innovation Awards Ceremony. His work with treating chronic heart failure and high blood pressure—via reducing excessive sympathetic nerve activity—landed the Innovator of the Year Award. The work also secured the interest of an industrial partner who is collaborating with Zucker’s lab to push the innovation toward FDA-approved treatments.

6. Anyone can be an inventor
That only scientists in lab coats can be an inventor is a common misconception. That perception, however does not match reality, and we sought to dispel that myth with this popular blog post back in May. The truth is, anyone can be an inventor. All you need is an idea, and some way to convey it.

7. If you want to be an entrepreneur…get a job!
A portion of our efforts are dedicated to helping build startups, and working with biotech entrepreneurs. Over the years, 55 startup companies have emerged from UNMC innovations, and we’ve learned a thing or two from all those successes (and failures too). Our Business Development Manager, Joe Runge, explores the value of “on-the-job learning” for budding entrepreneurs.

8. Motometrix (Avert) joins StraightShot
Motometrix, since re-branded as Avert, landed a coveted spot in Omaha’s technology accelerator program, StraightShot. Avert’s novel concussion detection platform is based on technology developed at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s world-class Biomechanics Research Building. The device resembles a bathroom scale turbo-charged with powerful software and highly sensitive pressure sensors that can determine when a person has suffered a concussion during sporting events. Avert is currently working on refining its prototype in preparation for a wider product roll-out.

Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., addresses an audience during UNeMed's Demo Day event in October 2016.

Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., addresses an audience during UNeMed’s Demo Day event in October 2016.

9. Calidum will treat, diagnose cancers
In April, UNeMed announced a licensing deal that helped create a new startup based on a UNMC technology that could be used to both diagnose and treat various cancers. Calidum’s “theranostic” compound is tagged with a harmless, radioactive isotope, and has a remarkable ability to target some treatment-resistant cancers, including prostate, ovarian and triple-negative breast cancer. The FDA has approved a clinical trial for prostate cancer.

10. New approach needed for Alzheimer’s
Despite its late arrival—and competition with the holiday season and a rather disruptive hack that laid the website low for several weeks—our most recent blog still managed to capture a lot of attention. Written by our newest addition to the staff, licensing intern Tyler Scherr, Ph.D., the blog examines current and future treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease. The overall outlook is grim for the present, but new approaches in the future could change that.

Honorable Mention:
The annual website review often rates a fair amount of traffic, including last year’s look at 2015, which revisited important stories about developing UNMC innovations. Among the top stories was a note about Virtual Incision, a Nebraska startup creating novel surgical robots. While much of the news in 2015 focused on Virtual Incision’s fund-raising success, the news in 2016 shifted to the company’s first-in-human tests and its addition to the University of Nebraska’s Innovation Campus.

Classics
Several posts from previous years remain popular and relevant, particularly those that focus on day-to-day operations and legal issues associated with intellectual property.
1. The importance of technology transfer
2. How to determine who is an inventor on a patent: Unraveling inventorship vs. authorship
3. What you need to know about royalty distribution
4. Technology transfer 101: Defining research commercialization

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UNMC, UNO form new institute to help start-ups succeed

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UNeTech facility at 3929 Harney St. will provide affordable space in 3-level, 5,000-sq.-ft. building

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC

The University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Omaha are partnering on a new institute designed to identify promising start-up companies and help them become successful.

The institute – called UNeTech – will be located at 3929 Harney St. in a building formerly occupied by the American Red Cross.

Rodney Markin - Pathology

Dr. Markin

A longtime top administrator at UNMC, Rod Markin, M.D., Ph.D., will serve as executive director of UNeTech. Dr. Markin has been on the faculty for 30 years, serving most recently as chief technology officer and associate vice chancellor for business development.

In 2010-11, Dr. Markin served as interim dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. Prior to this, he was named the David T. Purtilo Distinguished Professor of Pathology in 2005 and senior associate dean for clinical affairs in the College of Medicine in 1997. He also served as president of UNMC Physicians, the physician practice group for UNMC, from 1997 to 2010.

Dr. Markin, who holds 35 patents, is one of the most prolific inventors at UNMC. In 2009, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from UNeMed Corporation, UNMC’s technology transfer company, for his innovative work in transforming the clinical laboratory through technology.

Joe Runge will serve as associate director of UNeTech. Runge has been with UNeMed for the past 11 years, serving as business development manager and senior licensing specialist. UNeMed has been in operation for 25 years.

Scott Snyder, Ph.D., chief research officer, will serve as the lead administrator for UNO. He will be assisted by Nick Stergiou, Ph.D., Distinguished Community Research Chair in Biomechanics and director of UNO’s Biomechanics Research Building.

In addition to his role as chief research officer, Dr. Snyder is president of the Nebraska Applied Research Institute (NARI) on the UNO campus. Dr. Stergiou also oversees the National Center for Research in Human Movement Variability housed in the UNO Biomechanics Research Building.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for UNO to partner with UNMC, as we bring meaningful technologies from the research lab into the lives and care of people,” Dr. Snyder said.

“Biomechanics is committed to work with UNeTech in translating our innovations into effective start-up companies,” Dr. Stergiou added.

Ultimately, UNeTech will report to the UNMC chancellor, Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., and the UNO chancellor, John Christensen, Ph.D. An Oversight Committee made up of three leading business people who are all graduates of the UNMC College of Medicine– James Linder, M.D., F. Joseph Daugherty, M.D., and Tyler Martin, M.D. – will serve in an advisory capacity.

Dr. Markin said UNeTech’s mission will be to bridge the gap after UNeMed identifies promising technology and intellectual property and provide the support to allow these fledgling companies to become successful.

“It’s called the ‘Valley of Death,’” Dr. Markin said. “It’s the most difficult hurdle for new businesses to clear – 50 percent of start-up companies fail in the first three years.”

UNeTech hopes to make it easier for start-up companies to succeed by providing affordable space in its three-level, 5,000-sq.-ft. building. The top two levels will provide conventional office space, while the unfinished basement will serve as a laboratory/workshop area.

Dr. Markin said UNeTech hopes to have three start-up companies in the building by next month. These companies will share space on the first level of the building. Over time, he said the building could accommodate as many as 10-12 start-up companies.

UNeTech was approved by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents in 2015, and the Nebraska Legislature will allocate $1 million each year to cover UNeTech’s operating expenses.

Dr. Markin said UNeTech’s goals over the next five years include:

  • Evaluating at least 25 UNeMed-derived and 25 university-related technology opportunities;
  • Transitioning 10 of these opportunities into pass/fail status as start-up companies;
  • Incubating 20 early-stage technology/start-up opportunities;
  • Launching five start-up businesses capable of obtaining early-stage funding; and
  • Creating at least 50 new jobs.

To accomplish these goals, Dr. Markin said UNeTech will seek to raise between $7 million to $10 million in funding from individuals and outside agencies to invest in the potential technology and start-up companies.

“This will allow us to create a revolving fund with enough capital to maintain a strong growth environment into perpetuity,” he said.

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Website experiencing problems

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UPDATE (Jan. 18, 2017)—This afternoon UNeMed, with considerable help from Omaha startup Flywheel, completed most major repairs to the unemed.com website. Some small issues still remain unresolved, but should be cleared up before the end of the week. However, the website has been restored to full-functionality.

The website is now fortified with more robust oversight and protective systems, which should help prevent such disruptions of service in the future. We apologize for the duration and scope of the trouble, and thank you for your patience as we continue to fix the minor issues that remain.

***

OMAHA, Neb. (Dec. 22, 2016)—As many of you may have already discovered, our website is suffering from several glitches, which may have been caused by a recent hacking attempt.

We are working hard to resolve the many issues, but we may not have everything sorted out for several more days. If there is anything in particular you need or want, but can no longer access on the website, please give us a call at 402-559-2468 or email us at unemed@unmc.edu. We’ll do whatever we can to help.

We regret and apologize for any inconvenience the disruption in service may have caused.

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Kielian is UNMC’s 11th Scientist Laureate

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UNMC Professor of Pathology Tammy Kielian, Ph.D., (left)—seen here with doctoral student Megan Bosch—was named UNeMed's 2015 Innovator of the Year for her work against Juvenile Batten Disease and biofilm infections.

UNMC Professor of Pathology Tammy Kielian, Ph.D., (left)—seen here with doctoral student Megan Bosch—was UNeMed’s 2015 Innovator of the Year for her work against Juvenile Batten Disease and biofilm infections.

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC

Tammy Kielian, Ph.D., professor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center Department of Pathology and Microbiology, has been named the 11th UNMC Scientist Laureate.

The award is the highest honor UNMC bestows to researchers.

Dr. Kielian will be honored along with 21 other researchers who were named UNMC Distinguished Scientist, New Investigator and Research Leadership award winners for 2016. A campus ceremony will be held Jan. 17 in the Durham Research Center Auditorium to recognize the award recipients.

“Tammy Kielian is a ‘spark,’” said Vice Chancellor for Research Jennifer Larsen, M.D. “She is passionate about research and collaborates with many around multiple research interests, including developing new technologies.”

A native of Stanton, Neb., Dr. Kielian earned her bachelor’s degree in 1991 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, her master’s degree in 1994 from Kansas State University, and her doctorate in 1998 from the University of Kansas Medical Center. She did a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Dartmouth Medical School.

After completing her fellowship, she served as research assistant professor at Dartmouth before moving to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 2001 as assistant professor. She was elevated to associate professor in 2006.

In 2008, she joined the UNMC Department of Pathology and Microbiology. She was named professor in 2010, and in 2014, she received a prestigious named professorship – the Choudari Kommineni, D.V.M., Ph.D., Professorship of Pathology.

“Tammy is an exceptional individual because of her unique skills in multiple areas including immunology, infectious diseases neurology and genetic disorders,” said Steven Hinrichs, M.D., professor and chair of pathology and microbiology. “She is able to take essential elements from each subdiscipline and apply them to both basic science and clinical therapies.”

“As this year’s UNMC Scientist Laureate, Dr. Kielian joins an impressive list of internationally recognized UNMC faculty who are major contributors to their fields of research,” said Brad Britigan, M.D., dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. “Dr. Kielian’s novel approaches to understanding the pathogenesis of staphylococcal infections of prosthetic devices provides hope for addressing an all too common infection that has a major impact on lives throughout the world.

“Dr. Kielian’s ability to simultaneously develop a highly productive and visionary research program to explain and develop a potential therapy for the rare hereditary disease, juvenile Batten disease, that impacted a member of her immediate family, is a testament to her creativity and commitment as an investigator. She is very deserving of this recognition by the UNMC research community.”

Other award winners include:

Research Leadership Award

The Research Leadership Award is intended to honor scientists previously recognized as Distinguished Scientists who have a longstanding research funding history and also serve as research leaders and mentors on campus.

  • B. Timothy Baxter, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Robert Lewis, Ph.D., Eppley Institute

Distinguished Scientist Award

The Distinguished Scientist Award – which is sponsored by the UNMC chancellor – recognizes researchers who have been among the most productive scientists in the country during the past five years.

  • Maneesh Jain, Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Shelby Kutty, M.D., Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Rongshi Li, Ph.D., College of Pharmacy
  • Mark Mailliard, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Kaleb Michaud, Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Joseph Norman, Ph.D., College of Allied Health Professions
  • Larisa Poluektova, M.D., Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Matthew Rizzo, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Sarah Thayer, M.D., Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Melissa Tibbits, Ph.D., College of Public Health

New Investigator Awards

New Investigator Awards go to outstanding UNMC scientists who in the past two years have secured their first funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense or other national sources. New Investigators also had to demonstrate scholarly activity such as publishing their research and/or presenting their findings at national conventions.

  • Laura Bilek, Ph.D., College of Allied Health Professions
  • Martin Conda Sheridan, Ph.D., College of Pharmacy
  • Sung-Ho Huh, Ph.D., Munroe-Meyer Institute
  • R. Katherine Hyde, Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Mariano Sanchez-Lockhart, Ph.D., College of Medicine
  • Kimberly Scarsi, Pharm.D., College of Pharmacy
  • Jessica Nichols Snowden, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Hanjun Wang, M.D., College of Medicine
  • Wanfen Xiong, M.D., Ph.D., College of Medicine

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Prototype ‘printed’ for eye surgery

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by Vicky Cerino, UNMC

Eye surgeon, Donny Suh, M.D., changes the lives of patients with his hands and with the tools he uses.

As an inventor, Dr. Suh has discovered how useful 3D printing is for improving medical instruments used in surgery to repair Strabismus, a condition in which the eyes cross from misaligned eye muscles.

He has been working with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s 3D printing club, UNMC Makers, with the support of the McGoogan Library of Medicine.

Donny Suh, M.D.

Dr. Suh

“I’m very excited about this project and to be working with UNMC graduate students and staff. They are as enthusiastic and energetic as I am,” said Dr. Suh, associate professor in the UNMC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences in the Truhlsen Eye Institute and chief of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Adult Strabismus at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Dr. Suh said one of the traditional tools he uses to repair eye muscles in hundreds of children each year, called a needle driver, cannot easily maneuver into tight spaces for the surgery.

“The new tool will allow surgeons to work in a very small space with a limited view around the eye without compromising the safety to perform eye muscle surgery with a great precision.”

To see if such a tool would effectively function, he and his team used 3D technology to develop a prototype to be tried in a laboratory setting.

With the help of Tyler Scherr, Ph.D. and graduate student, Tim Bielecki, Dr. Suh printed a prototype. A manufacturer is in the process of making a titanium prototype of the tool.

When the prototype is completed, Dr. Suh will test the tool in the laboratory.

“He will be able to get a feel for the tool to see if it will be workable in a clinical setting,” Bielecki said. “Dr. Suh opened the door to collaboration. He knew we had the technology to develop a prototype that could save time and money.”

“I feel privileged to be a part of a collaborative effort with Dr. Suh’s team to improve a surgical tool,” said Dr. Scherr. “Dr. Suh came to us originally to use 3D printing to speed up the process. He’s really creative. In the past, it could take almost two years for the design process with a manufacturer.”

Dr. Suh and his team plan to present his project at an international conference of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Hawaii.

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Alzheimer’s Outlook: Current meds only mask symptoms, new approach needed

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by Tyler Scherr, UNeMed | Dec. 14, 2016

Alzheimer’s disease isn’t flashy; it isn’t in the news like the latest scary flu strain or antibiotic resistant superbug. As the leading cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease affects your brain, but it isn’t the brain tumor that springs up more-or-less overnight, throwing your entire life into disarray.

It’s a slow build-up of toxic proteins, causing your brain cells to wither and die, one-by-one, over the course of several decades. Your favorite memories disappear like apps and photos from a damaged smart phone.

Think about this: An estimated 700,000 Americans with Alzheimer’s disease died in 2016. Most of them, tragically, passed away without even the small comfort of happy memories.

Like you, I hope to live a long and happy life, and remember it when the end comes. I recently set out to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, check the pulse of current clinical trials, and hopefully catch a glimpse of what the future holds.

From HealthNewsReview.org:

From HealthNewsReview.org: “Alzheimer’s drug discovery has sadly experienced an almost universal failure rate of preclinical and Phase I, II, and III testing and nothing seems to get through the pipeline as this recent infographic from Nature Reviews Drug Discovery suggests. (The funnels illustrate the average number of compounds needed at each stage of drug development in order to get one drug approved.)”

Here’s the bad news: We currently have no drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease progression.

The best we can do is partially mask the symptoms.

According to Daniel Murman, M.D., Director of UNMC’s Memory Disorders and Behavioral Neurology Program, there are currently two classes of FDA-approved medications for Alzheimer’s, and both are neurotransmitter-based therapies. They essentially work by supporting proper brain cell function.

“The other medications that are used would be medications for psychiatric symptoms, which are common,” he said.

Honestly, the current “best treatment” for Alzheimer’s is to avoid getting it in the first place. Alzheimer’s disease progression is “similar to cardiovascular disease, in that atherosclerotic plaque build-up happens years before you have a heart attack,” said Dr. Murman.

Also, many of those things that lead to heart disease can also lead to Alzheimer’s, including midlife hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. Following your doctor’s advice to avoid cardiovascular disease could also help protect you against Alzheimer’s.

While Dr. Murman cautioned that there is still no conclusive evidence linking healthy lifestyle choices with decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, he listed aerobic activity, a heart-healthy diet, keeping socially connected, and avoiding repeated head trauma as good lifestyle choices that may help avoid age-associated Alzheimer’s disease.

Crucially, however, unlike heart disease, we still have no way to fix Alzheimer’s disease.

The last FDA approved treatment for Alzheimer’s disease was in 2004, but it only helps manage the dementia, Dr. Murman said.

Despite monumental efforts on the part of pharmaceutical companies, clinicians, and clinical trial participants, an effective treatment continues to elude scientists. For example, in November 2016 global pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company abandoned yet another drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, Solanezumab, which had previously failed to treat patients with more severe Alzheimer’s disease in a 2012 trial.

These trials now join the growing list of disappointments.

Over the past 12 years, at least six drugs have failed in the final stage of their clinical trial. What did these trials have in common? They were mostly antibody-based treatments that targeted a toxic protein called amyloid-beta.

However, with each failed trial it’s becoming increasingly evident that new therapeutic approaches must be considered.

Daniel Murman, M.D.In response to this latest round of disappointing news, Dr. Murman said that “by the time patients develop clinical symptoms of AD, there is significant neuronal loss and the initiation of multiple neurodegenerative processes has already occurred.”

He added: “AD clinical trials are increasingly focusing on subjects who are clinically normal, but show biomarker signs of very early AD changes in the brain (preclinical AD). There remains hope that intervening at this very early stage of AD will be more successful.”

Early results from one of these trials, involving another amyloid-beta targeting drug produced by Merck, should be available as early as June 2017. In the meantime, the research community will likely pivot to new forms of potential treatment.

“There is still an urgent need for a variety of approaches to prevent or slow the progression and neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and related neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, ALS and Huntington’s disease,” Dr. Murman said.

Scientists remain undaunted in the face of previous failures, with several university and industry research teams still working toward an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

For example, one intriguing option is not a change in what to target, but when. According to Dr. Murman, there is evidence showing that actually removing the bad protein may not be the answer. Rather, preventing its build-up in the first place may prove more successful. Companies like Merck and Eli Lilly have drugs in various stages of development targeting enzymes that could prevent the production of amyloid-beta plaques to begin with. While some of these drugs have entered stage 3 clinical trials, it will still be another 3-5 years before we know if they were effective.

While it may still be years before these and other promising novel treatments even begin clinical trials, Dr. Murman remains optimistic in his hope for disease-modifying treatments targeting beta-amyloids.

“I think there’s going to be, hopefully, a lot coming out in the next couple of years about these therapies,” he said.

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Two Nebraska biomed startups pitch at national demo day

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 20, 2016)—Two Nebraska biomedical startup companies were among the “Best University Startups of 2016,” a national demo day event that featured 35 nationally selected companies to present their technologies and meet with congressional leaders.

“There were more than 200 companies nationwide who applied for this opportunity,” UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon, Ph.D., said. “Getting two Nebraska startup companies into the room demonstrates the University’s commitment to growing the state’s biomedical economy.”

Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., addresses a standing room only crowd during the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer's national demo day in Washington D.C. on Sept. 20, 2016. Calidum is developing a radiopharmaceutical invented at the University of Nebraska Medical Centert that could dramatically change how some cancers are diagnosed, monitored and treated.

Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., addresses a standing room only crowd during the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer’s Best University Startups of 2016, a national demo day in Washington D.C. on Sept. 20, 2016. Calidum is developing a radiopharmaceutical invented at the University of Nebraska Medical Center that could dramatically change how some cancers are diagnosed, monitored and treated.

In all, the selected companies represented 17 states and the District of Columbia at the national demo day. Pennsylvania had the most with five startups presenting. California, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio all had three apiece. Nebraska was joined by D.C. and Minnesota as the only other areas with multiple entries at two apiece. The remaining states, with one presentation each, were Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

The Nebraska startup companies—Calidum Inc. and Orion BioScience—met with elected officials after addressing a standing-room crowd of venture capitalists, angel investors and industrial representatives on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Calidum is based on a technology invented at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The technology specifically targets certain types of cancer for more effective treatments and diagnoses. Calidum’s president, Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., delivered the presentation.

Orion is based on a technology invented at the University of Kansas, but relocated its headquarters to Omaha for Nebraska’s startup-friendly climate. Moving to Omaha also brings Orion closer to its clinical partner, UNMC. Orion is built around a platform technology that looks to restore immune tolerance as a way to cure autoimmune diseases.

BRad Ashord meets Sam Al-Murrani and Michael Dixon.

Sen. Brad Ashford (left) shares a joke as he meets with Calidum’s Sam Al-Murrani while UNeMed’s Michael Dixon looks on.

“The best part is the presentations did exactly what we hoped they would do,” Dr. Dixon said. “Both companies made significant connections to major biomedical and venture capital organizations. Building relationships like that can be tremendously difficult, but it’s a huge part of successfully commercializing a university technology.”

Dr. Dixon joined Dr. Al-Murrani and Orion CSO Joshua Sestak, Ph.D., in meetings with members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation: Rep. Brad Ashford, Sen. Deb Fischer and an aide from Sen. Ben Sasse’s office.

The meetings with elected officials covered several key areas, but focused mainly on the unique challenges facing biomedical startups and university technology transfer offices like UNeMed.

Biomedical startups often run into funding shortfalls after the initial federal grant programs, which typically financed initial discoveries. But it is usually industrial financing that supports the hefty price tag of product development.

Joshua Sestak, Deb Fischer, Sam Al-Murrani and Michael Dixon.

Pictured from left are Orion BioScience CSO Joshua Sestak, Ph.D., Sen. Deb Fischer, Calidum Chairman Sam Al-Murrani, Ph.D., and UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon.

Between those two resources, however, biomedical innovations often languish in a so-called “valley of death.” That valley represents a wide gap where a technology is too far along for further federal funding, yet paradoxically too far away to encourage support from industrial or investment groups.

The National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer hosted and sponsored the national demo day. According to its website, another national demo day is planned for April 18-20, 2017. The application deadline for the “Best University Startups of 2017” is Dec. 15, 2016.

 

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