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Colorado Awards $1.64M in Proof-of-Concept Grants to CU Biomedical Research Projects

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The University of Colorado said last week that it has selected 11 new projects to receive $1.64 million in "proof-of-concept" grants under a 2008 legislative initiative designed to speed the commercialization of bioscience research at Colorado’s universities and research institutions.

The grants are designed to fill a crucial gap in funding between basic research funding, typically from federal agencies, and industrial commercialization of technology, CU said.

The awards were authorized under House Bill 1001, which was passed in 2008 and promised to pump some $26.5 million over five years into various initiatives to help commercialize bioscience research in the state (see BTW, 4/30/2008).

Under the program, which is managed by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, $5.5 million was to be allocated from the state’s general fund to support bioscience commercialization in the 2007-2008 fiscal year; while $4.5 million in state gaming funds was to be used in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Starting this fiscal year, the program was to authorize the use of another $5.5 million from gaming funds in each of the following three years.

The POC grants are one of three funded areas, and were to receive no less than 30 percent of the total available funds, which would be $1.65 million.

Under the POC grant program, no more than $150,000 can be granted to individual research projects, and must be matched equally by a dedicated source of funds from either the research institution or an outside entity.

CU said that the state of Colorado provided a total of $1.5 million to Colorado research institutions in 2009, matched by equal funding contributed by the universities. This year, grants to CU researchers, including matching grants, totaled $1.64 million.

The winning grant proposals were:

• Natalie Ahn, department of chemistry and biochemistry, CU-Boulder, for targeted drugs to treat melanoma

• Ulrich Bayer, department of pharmacology, UC Denver, for a new drug to prevent permanent neurological damage in stroke patients

• Mark Duncan and Anthony Elias, divisions of pulmonary medicine and medical oncology, UC Denver, for improved diagnosis and early detection of breast cancer

• Heide Ford and Rui Zhao, departments of obstetrics and gynecology and biochemistry and molecular genetics, UC Denver, to identify and develop novel therapeutics for a wide variety of cancers

• Emily Gibson and Timothy Lei, departments of pharmacology and electrical engineering, UC Denver, for an improved flow cytometry device to analyze blood samples

• Bradley Olwin, department of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, CU-Boulder, for a method of repairing damaged muscle (including damage from muscular dystrophy) using stem cells

• Daniel Schwartz, department of chemical and biological engineering, CU-Boulder, for liquid crystal-based DNA microarrays to cost-effectively measure genetic material and quickly gather gigabases of genomic data

• Timothy Scott, department of mechanical engineering, CU-Boulder, for photodegradable materials for temporary and minimally invasive implantable medical devices

• Robin Shandas, division of cardiology, UC-Denver; and department of engineering, CU-Boulder, for a medical device to treat venous valve incompetence

• Wei Tan, department of mechanical engineering, CU-Boulder, for a new type of vascular graft to provide improved access for dialysis patients

• Linda Watkins, department of psychology, CU-Boulder, for a novel approach to treating chronic pain and increasing the clinical efficacy of opioid pain relief drugs.

The winning proposals were selected from a pool of 25 applications through a competitive internal review process, followed by approval from the state, CU said.

The state conducted a pilot version of the program in 2006, funding 13 projects in the CU system under a similar matching-funds process. Of these 13 grants, four of the resulting technologies have been licensed or optioned to Colorado-based companies, with advanced commercialization discussions underway with four other Colorado-based companies, CU said.

“We are delighted to see these proof-of-concept research projects move forward, “ David Allen, CU’s associate vice president for technology transfer, said in a statement. “Many of these projects will become the basis of new Colorado companies and jobs in a few years, and [provide] medical benefits across the globe.”

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