Precision Medicine Initiative for Commercialization Seeds First Investments
The mission of Precision Medicine Initiative for Commercialization (PreMIC) is to stimulate early-stage commercial translation projects among University of Pittsburgh and UPMC investigators to address major unmet clinical needs through precision medicine-based approaches. PreMIC is a catalyst for big thinking in precision medicine translation – filling the academic funnel with new technologies that will move toward technology licensing and new company formation.
PreMIC launched its first funding cycle in the fall of 2019 and received 15 proposals. Seven proposals were selected to compete in a pitch competition that was held on Feb 21, 2020, at LifeX Ventures. Pitches were evaluated by an expert panel using scoring criteria that included clinical need validation, scientific merit, and market differentiation.
Three projects are awarded PreMIC funding:
ProTeara, a serial-entrepreneurial team composed of Alan Wells, MD, DMSc (Pathology), Shiva Swamynathan, PhD (Ophthalmology), and Ian Conner, MD, PhD (Ophthalmology) receives $100,000 to advance a peptide biologic to cure dry eye, a common condition afflicting at least 16 million Americans. If uncorrected, dry eye can lead to vision impairment. Wells and Conner are also co-founders of the University of Pittsburgh startup Ocugenix, which is developing therapeutics for pervasive eye diseases. The ProTeara peptide precisely targets and restores goblet cells, which are the molecular drivers of the dry eye condition. The ProTeara team holds intellectual property on the peptide through the assistance of the Innovation Institute and aims to use the PreMIC funding to test the efficacy of their peptide in a preclinical animal model. The team anticipates that the PreMIC funding will accelerate its biologic to toxicology testing followed by a Pre-IND meeting with the FDA.
Universal CARs, a cross-functional team composed of Jason Lohmueller, PhD (Surgery), Alex Deiters, PhD (Chemistry), and Olivera Finn, PhD (Immunology) receives $100,000 for the development of its Universal CAR T Cell platform technology for immunotherapy. Universal CARs is a revolutionary approach to simultaneously target multiple antigens and multiple tumors to more precisely treat cancer. The Universal CARs aims to reduce the limitations of toxicity in traditional CAR T cell therapy in B-Cell cancers (~ 10% of patients), cancer relapse due to target antigen loss (30-50% of patients) and applying CAR T cell therapy to other cancers (~600,000 patients per year in the U.S.). This project was the first place winner of the 2018 Wells Healthcare Competition. The Universal CARs team holds intellectual property on this promising technology through the assistance of the Innovation Institute and aims to use the PreMIC funding to test the ability to target multiple antigens in human solid tumor mouse models - closing its gap towards an IND filing.
MALT1 PPIi, an interdisciplinary team composed of Peter Lucas, MD, PhD (Pathology & Pediatrics), Linda McAllister, MD, PhD (Hematology/Oncology & Pediatrics), and Bill Chen, PhD (Small Molecule Therapeutic Center) receives $50,000 for precision small molecules targeting mechanisms underlying Diffuse Large B cell Lymphoma (DLBCL), the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (40% of cases; incidence of 7 per 100,000 in the US). The team aims to use the PreMIC funding to further develop a therapeutic candidate and position the project for external funding to enable next-level development and the formation of a licensed spin-out company with the assistance of the Innovation Institute.
PreMIC funded projects will continue to receive translational development support from sciVelo. The Innovation Institute’s licensing managers and entrepreneurs in residence will advance the projects toward commercialization.
The PreMIC judges panel included prominent leaders in the clinical and commercial translation. Michael Lotze, MD (Professor of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh) and Mylynda Massart, MD, PhD (Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh) provided insights on the clinical impact of the proposed precision medicine solutions. Hank Safferstein, PhD, JD, MBA (Executive in residence, UPMC-Enterprises), Larry Miller, MBA (Managing Director of Life Sciences at Innovation Works), Phil Empey, PharmD, PhD (Associate Director, Institute for Precision Medicine, University of Pittsburgh) and Sreekar Gadde, JD, MBA (Executive Director for BlueTree Allied Angels) assessed the market differentiation and commercial potential of the pitched projects. Adrian Lee, PhD (Director, Institute for Precision Medicine, University of Pittsburgh and UPMC), Andrew Brown, PhD (Assistant Director, Commercial Translation Programs, sciVelo, University of Pittsburgh), Don Taylor, PhD, MBA, CLP (Founder and Executive Director, sciVelo, University of Pittsburgh), Jennifer Xavier, PhD (Associate Director for Research, Institute for Precision Medicine, University of Pittsburgh and UPMC) evaluated the scientific and technology readiness of the pitched projects for commercial translation.