Coulter-Duke Translational Partnership – Year Two

coulter.jpgFour new projects have been selected for funding through the 2007 call for proposals for the Coulter-Duke Translational Partnership.

Biomedical engineering professor Ashutosh Chilkoti is partnering with Assistant Professor Philip Febbo of the Duke School of Medicine and Institute for Genome Science and Policy (IGSP) on a project titled “Ultra-Sensitive Microarray Platform for the Detection of Serum Markers of Prostate Cancer.”

Biomedical engineering Associate Professor Warren Grill is partnering with Associate Professor Cindy Amundsen of the Department of Urogynecology on a project titled “A Bladder Amplifier to Treat Urinary Retention.”

Biomedical engineering Professor Kam Leong has partnered with Associate Professor Thomas Ortel of the Department of Pathology and T. Nichols of the the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a project titled “Oral Delivery of Factor VIII Gene for Hemophilia A Therapy.”

And biomedical engineering assistant professor Jingdong Tian has partnered with J. Yu of the Duke School of Medicine and L. Liao of the Duke School of Medicine and the Human Vaccine Institute on a project titled “A Novel Technology Platform for Efficient Vaccine Development.”

The Coulter-Duke program, launched in 2006, addresses an unmet need for university faculty, as most federal funding programs typically do not support technology development to a commercially viable stage. Such grants will serve as a bridge to carry proof-of-concept technology ideas through the “valley of death” to a patentable product. To be eligible for funding, research teams must include a lead investigator from the BME department and at least one member of Duke’s Medical School faculty or staff.

Translational Program Taking Off

During the first two years of this partnership, 64 percent of the primary BME faculty members participated in the call for proposals, as well as faculty from six of 11 clinical departments and the Department of Pathology, the Human Vaccine Institute, the IGSP and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Many of the proposals involved new collaborations.

“The breadth of involvement within the BME department and at the Medical School is an indication that the faculty is becoming more involved with translational research,” said George Truskey, professor and chair of Duke’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and program manager for the Duke-Coulter partnership.

Duke will also benefit from a substantial increase in financial support for the partnership. The Coulter Foundation increased the partnership’s annual funding from $580,000 in the first year to $1,000,000 per year in years two through five.

“This will enable us to support more projects and at a higher level. In turn, the Coulter Foundation is expecting an increased commitment from the university,” said Truskey.

Over the past year, The Coulter-Duke project team offered new short courses on the process of translation for Duke’s faculty and tech transfer staff and developed a collaboration with the Duke Translational Research Institute (DTRI) that has resulted in four projects by BME faculty receiving funding from the institute.

Progress of Projects Funded in 2006

The first four projects funded through the Duke-Coulter partnership have performed extremely well, officials said. A brief description of each project and an update are provided below:

    • An Optical Assay System For Intra Operative Assessment Of Tumor Margins In The Breast
      (N. Ramanujam, BME: L. Wilke, Surgery; and J. Geradts, Pathology)During the past year, this team has made important advances in creating a working prototype of an intraoperative margin device. They have now embarked on a clinical study to test this device in patients, with funding from the DTRI. Ramanujam has started a company to commercialize this technology. Her team won an NC IDEA grant to pursue regulatory issues and is seeking STTR funding from the National Institutes of Health. The team’s business plan was voted a runner-up in the 2007 Duke Start-Up Challenge.
    • Toxicity and Immunogenicity of Elastin-like Polypeptides
      (A. Chilkoti, BME; M. Dewhirst, Radiation Oncology, and M. Colvin, Pharmacology and cancer Biology)The goal of this project is the preclinical validation of elastin-like polypeptides (ELP) technology to target chemotherapeutics, radionuclides and biologics to solid tumors. The tests performed suggested that the ELP formulations are safe. To complete the original research goals, a tumor regression study is in progress. Follow-on funding for this project includes an NIH grant to address basic research questions and a license to Phase Biosciences.
    • Intra-Articular Drug Delivery Based on Thermally-Responsive Biopolymers
      (Lori Setton, BME, Virginia B. Kraus, M.D., Ph.D. and Ashutosh Chilkoti, BME)This project involved testing elastin-like polypeptides as a carrier to prolong the biological lifetime of a currently approved compound. The project developed some promising initial results, but ended when Setton was awarded an NIH grant that overlapped with the Coulter project. Setton has developed an option agreement and sponsored research with one device manufacturer.
    • Tissue engineered cartilage for joint resurfacing
      (F. Guilak, Orthopaedic Surgery; K. Leong, BME and S.A. Olson, Orthopaedic Surgery)The goal of this project was to develop novel tissue engineering technologies for the repair of articular cartilage. The team has produced a woven fiber that can be molded into several shapes. This work was a feature article in Nature Materials (Vol 6, pages162-167 (2006)). The fabric can also support cell growth. Follow-on funding is provided by DTRI. The project was included in a course to develop a business plan and did very well in several business plan competitions. The team has applied for STTR funding from NIH and submitted an NC IDEA grant for business planning.