More than a decade ago, James McGinity and his graduate student, Feng Zhang, invented a tamper-resistant coating for the widely used, often-abused painkiller Oxycontin. After successful early-stage work, their technology was licensed and commercialized, giving millions of pain sufferers access to an effective drug that had been taken off the market due to its abuse.
The Texas Health Catalyst program at UT Austin was created to make such successes much more common. We have just finished the first round of reviewing and funding projects, and it’s exciting to see the innovation that is happening on campus and progressing toward the patients and physicians who need it.
Texas Health Catalyst — a program of the Dell Medical School in collaboration with the Cockrell School of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Office of Technology Commercialization — aims to identify, guide and support promising translational research at UT Austin. Working closely with other innovation programs on campus such as the Innovation Center and the IC2 Institute, Texas Health Catalyst brings together seed funding and, more importantly, timely and customized guidance from leaders with first-hand experience in getting healthcare products into the market to improve health.
From an initial group of 30 applications received in July, eight project teams were identified as finalists by a specially chosen, multidisciplinary advisory panel. During the course of two months, the teams worked with assigned advisors to understand challenges and new opportunities for their projects, and to focus their efforts on developing products that will truly impact health. That culminated with finalist presentations in front of a wide-ranging group of UT Austin and industry leaders in early December.
Today, I’m excited to share that we are providing several finalists with funds — up to $100,000 — to help their research accomplish key milestones and move closer to the goal of becoming products that will improve health.
Heart-Health Monitoring Sensor — A team led by Dr. Richard Crooks, a Professor of Chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences, is developing a sensor designed to securely transmit daily updates about the heart health of people with congestive heart failure to their cardiologists. The Texas Health Catalyst paired the team with advisor Dr. Stephanie Kreml, Chief Medical Officer at Accordion Health, who provided guidance that will help Crooks’ team commercialize the research. If successful, their technology will allow cardiologists to intervene and help patients at the first signs of trouble — before a serious, potentially life-threatening cardiac event occurs.
New Treatment for Neurodegenerative Disorders — Dr. Stephen Martin, a Professor of Chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Dr. James Sahn, a Research Associate in the Department of Chemistry, are developing a new drug to treat neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Texas Health Catalyst paired the team with four advisors: Janet Walkow of Drug Dynamics Institute; Jim Graham of Abbott Creek Management; Dr. Cathy Tralau-Stewart of the University of California, San Francisco; and Dr. Benjamin Fauber, an independent drug discovery consultant. There have been countless failed attempts at developing an effective therapy for these diseases, but both Dr. Martin’s team and the advisors see promise in this approach.
Intraoperative Assessment for Surgical Removal of Skin Cancers — Dr. James Tunnell, an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, and Dr. Jason Reichenberg, an Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Dermatology at the Seton Healthcare Family, are developing a new technology to measure the effectiveness of surgical interventions in skin cancer removal. The Texas Health Catalyst paired Tunnell and Reichenberg with advisor Dr. Eric Mayes, CEO of Endomag. If successful, they hope to reduce the need for repeat surgeries and improve cosmetic outcomes for patients.
Before coming to UT Austin this year, I was involved with a similar groundbreaking program at the University of California, San Francisco, so I’ve seen firsthand the potential of programs like the Texas Health Catalyst. Successful translational research hinges on the exchange of information and collaborative development between research institutions and industry.
Most academic research projects are based on early discoveries that extend scientific understanding and could lead to significant health, social and economic benefits. These discoveries require significant research and experimentation; their effectiveness must be proven before they can change our knowledge and behavior or become useful innovations.
Our goal with the Texas Health Catalyst, as with the Dell Medical School at UT Austin, is to help guide and accelerate the development of solutions that truly help all of us — in this community and beyond — get and stay healthy.
By connecting UT Austin’s world-class researchers with some of the most innovative clinical, industry and community leaders, we have a tremendous opportunity to create a sustainable innovation engine that achieves our shared goals of advancing the local economy, enhancing public-private relationships, and improving — or even saving — lives.
Generous support for the Texas Health Catalyst’s Dec. 7 final report out event was provided by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.