The Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corp., also known as Catalyst, this week announced that $1.25 million in grants have been awarded to four collaborative bioscience commercialization projects between Virginia’s research universities and private companies — including two grants totaling more than half a million dollars for Virginia Tech-related projects.

The awards are being matched dollar for dollar by federal grants and/or direct industry contribution, creating a cumulative $2.5 million investment.

One project involves a first-in-kind treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.

The collaborative program between Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, and BioTherapeutics Inc. of Blacksburg aims to advance a novel anti-inflammatory compound with a unique mechanism of action into the clinic through a progressive clinical study program.

Inflammation is a primary cause of inflammatory bowel disease, a condition that affects more than 4 million people worldwide, and for which there are limited treatments. Preclinical testing indicates that the compound may be effective with limited toxicity. The program received $400,000.

“Based on a novel anti-inflammatory mechanism of action discovered at Virginia Tech, we believe this new drug candidate may be effective in treating IBD and potentially a range of other conditions linked to inflammation,” said Josep Bassaganya-Riera, a professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and president and chief executive officer of Biotherapeutics Inc. “The funding from the Catalyst will allow us to pursue a clinical trial pathway, with the goal of making this treatment available to millions of people worldwide suffering from these widespread and debilitating disorders.”

Also receiving a boost was a technology to speed the repair and regeneration of damaged tissue advanced by the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute for some of the most prevalent and costly health conditions today, including heart attacks and diabetes

The investigational treatment has shown positive results in Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials evaluating repair of tissue damaged from heart attacks and diabetic foot ulcers.

The development program, a joint effort of Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and FirstString Research Inc., received a $200,000 grant from the Catalyst to advance the drug development program into late-stage clinical studies.

Robert Gourdie, a professor with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, works with small molecules and stem cell technologies for regenerative medicine applications.

“Treatments that can regenerate or repair tissue quickly and effectively have a range of potential applications in medicine today, particularly among diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, which carry a significant burden among a large proportion of the U.S. population,” said Gautam S. Ghatnekar president and chief executive officer of FirstString. “We look forward to collaborating with our partners, using the Catalyst funding to advance our progress with this investigational treatment toward commercial availability.”

In a Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corp. news release Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said, “Bioscience is on the leading edge, and translational (research-and-development) investments have a very high economic impact in total jobs, increased annual state tax revenue, and lifelong health science benefits. The Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corp. is a unique and great example of a public-private partnership that will bring highly innovative companies into direct collaboration with leading Virginia universities to build on Virginia’s growing momentum in this strategic sector.”

The Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corp. is funded from the Virginia General Assembly’s General Fund and six participating research universities: Eastern Virginia Medical School, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech.

“The Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corp. Board of Directors  is a highly focused and disciplined strategy that draws out innovative scientific and business talent from across the Commonwealth, calling for substantive collaboration as a critical driver to maximize return on investment for both public and private funding,” said Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones, a member of the board.

The inaugural grants awarded by the Catalyst represent significant opportunities to accelerate translational research in the Virginia life sciences community, according to a news release.

Each selected program addresses an area of scientific importance with considerable unmet need in the healthcare community, and defines a pathway through research stages toward commercialization. The collaborative projects receiving awards will investigate breakthrough platforms and treatments to:

  • Accelerate the discovery and successful development of  new cancer drugs;
  • Reposition an existing drug to combat brain cancer;
  • Foster tissue repair and regeneration in diabetes and heart disease;  and,
  • More effectively treat inflammatory bowel disease.

“The review panel of CEOs, investors and academic researchers unanimously agreed that these four projects hold great promise to deliver significant advances for some of the most pressing healthcare issues today,” said Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corp. Chief Executive Officer Mike Grisham. “By encouraging new collaborations between our world-class universities and the private sector in Virginia, we are helping to cultivate the expertise that makes us globally competitive, both now and in the future.”

The Catalyst received 25 “Letters of Intent” that resulted in 12 formal applications as part of this initial award, which were reviewed by a 10-member Project Management and Oversight Panel. The Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corp.’s Board of Directors then reviewed the panel’s recommendations and selected the awardees.

"The Catalyst has an exciting mission to advance research into high commercial impact, and these newly funded projects mark an outstanding beginning,” commented Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones. “Investments in the commonwealth’s world-class research universities, in collaboration with private industry, will not only grow high-paying jobs and economic growth in Virginia in the short-term, but have the promise to create new treatments or even cures.”

“Many of the underlying technologies were developed by Virginia’s research universities, and are now being commercialized by the commonwealth’s emerging biotech leaders,” added Sen. Creigh Deeds. “These platforms will contribute to Virginia’s growing reputation for biotech excellence, and generate long-term economic benefits, as well as major advances across a range of disease areas.”

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.


Share this story