An innovation studio to translate research of impact from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh research

sciVelo-CHP opened its doors to the UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh (CHP) clinicians and faculty on July, 1st 2019. The mission of sciVelo-CHP is to identify novel pediatric ideas and research born at Rangos Research Center and CHP and fill the top of the funnel for advancing these technologies towards market-oriented solutions to improve children’s lives around the world.

sciVelo-CHP was brought to fruition by partnerships with key thought leaders at the CHP: Terence Dermody, MD, Physician-in-Chief and Scientific Director, and George Gittes, MD Chief of Pediatric Surgery who both sought to improve the translation of innovations at CHP. sciVelo-CHP is also flanked by some of the top minds in pediatric health on the sciVelo-CHP advisory steering committee. sciVelo-CHP steering committee consists of experts across pediatric surgery, molecular genetics, neonatology, radiology, and critical care.

Since its launch, sciVelo-CHP has connected with more than 100 CHP faculty members, helping 54 project teams progress toward their translational goals. These interactions resulted in sciVelo-CHP helping to secure more than $200,000 in translational research funding in fiscal year 2020. In this same fiscal year, sciVelo-CHP led the development of 27 invention disclosures filed for technologies including therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostic tools, and digital health solutions – tripling the number of filed invention disclosures to the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute from the year prior. These invention disclosures are important because they mark the start of the commercialization process by the Innovation Institute including functions such as intellectual property filing, licensing, and new company formation.
One of the first sciVelo-CHP projects was MALT1–PPli, a project led by Peter Lucas, MD, PhD, Linda McAllister, MD, PhD, and their MD-PhD student Heejae Kang. The team is working on validating and optimizing a novel MALT1 inhibitor that can help patients suffering from subtypes of lymphoma and leukemia. These patients often receive non-precise chemotherapy treatments, and this can result in serious and sometimes life-threatening side-effects. The concept behind the novel MALT1 inhibitor is that it acts as a precision medicine therapy, with the potential for fewer “off-target” toxic side-effects, improving the lives of children with Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) (the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma) and likely other forms of lymphoma/leukemia.

Prior to their interaction with sciVelo-CHP, the MALT1–PPli team did not have experience with translation and academic entrepreneurship at Pitt. sciVelo-CHP worked with the MALT1–PPli team to assist in the submission of their first invention disclosure to the Innovation Institute, supported their application for the Precision Medicine Initiative for Commercialization (PreMIC) funding, and coached them to the PreMIC pitch day which ultimately resulted in securing $50,000 for the project. Following the pitch day, the team was also introduced to key resources and thought leaders at UPMC Enterprises.

Dr. McAllister referred to her team’s experience with sciVelo-CHP as “instrumental in [their] ability to gain funding from the Institute of Precision Medicine to support [their] work.”. She thinks that her team now has a deeper understanding of how to effectively communicate their research to potential funders who are non-scientists, and advises the investigators interested in translating their early-stage research to arrange a consultation with sciVelo-CHP.
Another success story comes from the BRAIN A-I team, who has also benefited from sciVelo-CHP’s translational expertise. The BRAIN A-I team is composed of top pediatric critical care physicians Robert Clark, MD, Alicia Au, MD, and Christopher Horvat, MD. BRAIN A-I combines machine learning and brain biomarkers to predict the risk of developing brain injury during intensive care unit (ICU) hospitalization. Approximately 1 in 3 children develop a neurological complication during hospitalization for serious or critical illness, yet there are no established non-invasive tools for continuously monitoring brain health. BRAIN A-I helps physicians recognize impending and evolving brain injury much earlier than currently-observed clinical signs and symptoms.

sciVelo-CHP assisted the team by working through their research with a market orientation and then iterating on an invention disclosure that resulted in a copyright and provisional patent application for BRAIN A-I being filed by the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute. Invigorated by the recently secured intellectual property, sciVelo-CHP continued to work with the team to identify key funding opportunities to support BRAIN A-I’s work in digital health application areas. Because sciVelo maintains a collaboration with UPMC Enterprises through the digital health initiative supported by the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance and Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (CCA), this funding opportunity was identified for the Brain A-I team. sciVelo-CHP supported BRAIN A-I’s application and pitch to the CCA resulting in Brain AI being one of the finalists for the CCA Cycle 9 funding applications.

“It was excellent to work with the sciVelo-CHP team while refining our invention disclosure and crafting our funding pitch. Their feedback was tremendously helpful. We are lucky to have sciVelo-CHP... it’s important that investigators who need help with translating their research utilize these excellent resources.”

- Christopher Horvat, MD, MHA, Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine.

The interaction between sciVelo-CHP and another team, 4D Fetal MRI, led by Yijen L. Wu, PhD at CHP, and Anthony Christodoulou, PhD of Cedars-Sinai, also resulted in successful translation outcomes. sciVelo-CHP helped this team work through their science in the form of a successful invention disclosure resulting in a provisional patent application and copyright application filed by the Innovation Institute. 4D Fetal MRI is a scanning MRI software tool that can overcome fetal and maternal motion for ultra-fast, high-resolution fetal anatomical and functional imaging simultaneously. 4D Fetal MRI aims to improve surgeons’ ability to precisely and accurately understand the operative landscape despite the motion artifacts in traditional MRI scans. According to the project lead Dr. Wu: “The sciVelo-CHP team has been very helpful in guiding the 4D Fetal MRI team through writing our invention disclosure and preparing us for funding opportunities, such as the CCA.”
“sciVelo-CHP is an outstanding example of strategic and intentional outreach to researchers and clinicians who are otherwise not self-selecting for the translation of their research. We activate these investigators on their pathway to having translational impact and this is done in close collaboration across Innovation Institute’s innovation and commercialization teams, as well as many other stakeholders in Pittsburgh’s exceptional life sciences innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.”

- Donald P. Taylor, PhD, MBA, CLP, the Executive Director of sciVelo, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences Translation, and Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh.

*sciVelo-CHP is also supported by the FDA’s 1P50FD006427-01 used to create the Pennsylvania Pediatric Medical Device Consortium (PPDC) , one of 5 pediatric device consortia across the United States. sciVelo-CHP proudly contributes to the PPDC with our Pitt partners at the McGowan Institute, and regional partners including Archimedic, Penn Health-Tech, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.”

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