Madison Weigand, a project-based assistant with Dell Med’s Health Product Innovation team, wrote the following guest post. Weigand is a graduate of the Moody College of Communication and is focused on the intersection of technology, education and culture as a baseline for sustainable and healthy communities.
Last month, a team led by Richard Crooks, PhD, professor of chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, and Ian Richards, PhD, of Interactives Executive Excellence, received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The team is building an affordable, time-saving test for heart-failure patients to use in their homes, addressing a significant unmet health need in our community. For many in Austin who suffer from heart failure, transportation and resource constraints limit access to current diagnostic procedures done at pathology labs.
This project was one of the participants in the inaugural cycle of Texas Health Catalyst, a program of Dell Medical School in collaboration with the Cockrell School of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Office of Technology Commercialization. Texas Health Catalyst supports transformative health products and services in the development stage, like this home heart monitoring system, with seed funding and guidance from the most relevant industry, clinical and community health experts.
Texas Health Catalyst played an integral role in Crooks and Richards earning the NIH award.
“[Texas Health Catalyst] is brilliant—and not just conceptually; brilliant individuals, they’ve all been fantastically helpful and have practically opened doors which otherwise would have been difficult to get through,” said Richards, a co-inventor of the Clearblue Easy home pregnancy test.
The project was in nascent research stages when the team decided to apply for the Texas Health Catalyst program. Already funded by an NIH R21 award, the team saw the THC program and its funding as a key component in increasing the chances of landing a larger, longer term NIH R01 award. Early on, they began to see the program’s benefits.
“We were promptly introduced to Dell Medical School’s resources including Dr. Richard Freeman, who introduced us to relevant medical expertise in the US and access to a network that is normally very difficult to source,” explained Richards.
Crooks added that Texas Health Catalyst introduced the team to the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, which prepares researchers how to efficiently and effectively advance through the commercialization process. Texas Health Catalyst funded the team’s participation in the regional I-Corps program, which in turn led to a $50,000 grant from the NSF for the national program. Through this process, the team interviewed over 100 potential customers and gained valuable insight.
“It was very helpful, and I think NIH was impressed that we had done that and that in turn helped us win the current grant we have,” said Crooks.
Instrumental in advancing the project’s progress was Paul DeGregory, a graduate student researcher at the College of Natural Sciences. “Working with faculty on translational projects is a huge opportunity for students with a potential interest in entrepreneurship,” Richards said. “Most faculty don’t have the opportunity to dedicate the amount of time needed to begin the commercialization of a product. It really is a win-win.”
Nishi Viswanathan, director of the Texas Health Catalyst program, introduced the group to a number of advisors. The advisory team lead was Stephanie Kreml, a Senior Advisor at Popper and Co.
“As it turned out, I had recently worked on a project where we identified an opportunity for a client to help millions of patients better manage CHF by monitoring BNP (brain natriuretic peptide) at home. This validated the clinical need for Dr. Crooks’ technology,” Kreml said.
The team was also connected with Stacey Chang, executive director of the Design Institute for Health to help with prototype design and user experience, and Elisa Maldonado, a regulatory expert with years of experience working with the FDA.
“The truly catalytic impact of the Texas Health Catalyst program is the invaluable openness to interdisciplinary collaboration,” emphasized Richards. “Because of the different collaborators and the introduction of industrial techniques and tools like project management, this is no ordinary academic project. I view Texas Health Catalyst as just the beginning of the partnership. They enable all sorts of perspectives, in terms of the talents they’ve got, and the best creative ideas come out of that environment.”