A Virginia Tech spinoff company formed to fight a deadly type of brain cancer is being recognized this week by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Universities.

Samy Lamouille, a research assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and chief executive officer of Acomhal Research Inc. in Roanoke, Virginia, will represent the company at the APLU’s University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Acomhal Research, which was founded by Lamouille and Rob Gourdie, the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund Eminent Scholar in Heart and Regenerative Medicine at VTCRI, is one of 22 companies selected nationally to highlight how federally funded university research improves lives and fuels entrepreneurship and innovation.  

“Commercializing university research through technology transfer and start-ups is a critical facet of Virginia Tech’s public mission,” said Theresa Mayer, vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech, who also discussed how university-led initiatives can engage the community to solve problems during a “Grand Challenge” panel discussion on Sunday at the APLU meeting.

“It is our job to strengthen our nation’s economy, improve health care, and expand opportunities for all Americans,” Mayer said. “Academic research, start-up companies, and university-industry collaborations fuel the innovations that create technology, generate jobs, and enhance quality of life.”

Virginia Tech’s newly established business engagement center, Link, ran the nomination process. Chief among the criteria for Acomhal Research’s selection for the competitive recognition was its potential to make major societal and economic impact.

“A critical component of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s program is to foster translation, commercialization, and economic development based on the discoveries made at the institute, and that includes nurturing the spin-off of new companies,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the VTCRI and vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech. “Acomhal Research is a great example of how federal funding contributes to the development of intellectual property to address important health problems, in this case, an innovative approach to the development of new therapeutics for a devastating disorder glioblastoma multiforme.

“Samy Lamouille is a great example of the kind of creative scientist who has the vision and courage to take his discoveries into the world and be tested by the marketplace,” Friedlander said.  “Together, it is a winning combination for society.”

Lamouille said startup companies are the mechanism that turns good ideas into practical discoveries and therapies.

Glioblastoma is an extremely aggressive disease with limited treatment options. About half of glioblastoma patients die within the first 12 to 18 months of diagnosis, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Acomhal is working to develop new approaches to target cancer-causing cells based on pioneering work in Gourdie’s lab on connexins — channel-forming molecular complexes between neighboring cells that enable direct communication playing important roles in heart function, wound healing, and tissue repair as well as in brain cancer, such as glioblastoma.  

Recently, Acomhal Research received a boost from America’s Seed Fund, with the award of a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant through a program within the National Institutes of Health. The company will receive up to $225,000 to use toward early stage development of a biodegradable nano-capsule that contains a biological product with potential to eradicate glioblastoma cells.

“Of all the discoveries in academia, only relatively few are developed commercially because of the time required and different skills needed to bring an idea to the clinic. It takes an entrepreneurial strategy or a commercial partner within a supportive, innovative environment for the idea to reach the marketplace,” Lamouille said. “We have started our company and successfully competed for funding to hopefully move into phase 1 clinical trials and develop our product to attract investors. The reward will be to see our novel approach implemented therapeutically, where it will help people live longer and maintain a higher quality of life.”

Acomhal was selected out of nearly 100 applicants from 40 institutions as an ideal example of how federally funded university research improves lives and fuels entrepreneurship and innovation.  

“This is a fabulous recognition,” said Mary Miller, executive director of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Accelerator Mentoring Program, known as RAMP, which counts Acomhal Research among its first class. “Dr. Lamouille is foremost a fantastic researcher. But not all researchers have the time, desire, or ability to become company owners. Samy has aptitude for it and embraced it. We could not be prouder that we were able to give him a place to get started, help him get all the structures in place a business needs, and help set the foundation for Acomhal as a company.”

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