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Research Teams Win Breast Cancer Startup Challenge for MDx Development Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Three research teams developing molecular breast cancer diagnostic technologies at US universities have been chosen as winners of a competition aimed at helping them develop business plans to commercialize their innovations.

At total of 10 teams were selected as winners of the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge, a competition funded and led by the Avon Foundation for Women and supported by the National Cancer Institute and the Center for Advancing Innovation, the Avon Foundation said yesterday.

The 46 teams that participated in the contest represent labs that are funded either by NCI or the Avon Foundation, and the 10 winners from that field seek to commercialize diagnostics, therapeutics, prognostics, medical devices, vaccines, a delivery system, and a health IT invention.

Avon provided $250,000 to fund the competition, and teams of business, legal, medical, scientific, and engineering experts and entrepreneurs evaluated the technologies to help the teams develop business plans and launch startup companies.

"We believe that this [competition] is a novel, sustainable model that can be institutionalized to commercialize federally-owned inventions and philanthropically-funded inventions that will accelerate and increase the volume of progress in research and ultimately save the lives of many women stricken by breast cancer," Rosemarie Truman, founder and CEO of CAI, said in a statement.

"NCI has always had a strong interest in fostering young investigators and the fact that this challenge pairs each student team with entrepreneur-mentors to assist in the development of the business plans is another example of how we can bring new ideas and energy to cancer research," added NCI Deputy Director Douglas Lowy.

The three winning proposals developing genomic technologies include a group at the University of California, Berkeley and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; McGill University; and Tulane University.

The UC-Berkeley/Einstein team, led by Einstein Professor Steven Libutti, is working on a molecular diagnostic assay that analyzes gene expression levels of six genes to determine the likelihood that breast cancer will recur, and which is not confined to a specific breast cancer type.

At McGill, Clinical Investigator Stephen Hewitt is leading a team that is developing a tissue-based diagnostic assay called Provivox that compares the expression of several protein biomarkers to predict a cancer's development, chance for patient relapse, and chance of survival.

The Tulane team, led by lead inventor Sherry Yang, is developing a molecular diagnostic kit called Taxotest that is designed to help oncologists select patients who are most likely to benefit from taxane-based chemotherapies. This group is seeking to raise $400,000 and estimates the business could earn $10 million per year within five years.