16 Nov UW Biomedical Engineering awarded $2.9 million research grant
Madison, Wis. – The Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, named for the late biomedical device inventor, has awarded the Biomedical Engineering department at UW-Madison a five-year, $580,000 annual grant for pursuing translational research, the repackaging and rethinking of existing pure research to get it ready for applications in the private sector. At the end of the five-year period, a decision will be made on continuing aid by the foundation in the form of a larger, more permanent endowment.
“These are funding projects that have the promise or potential to become products,” said Mike Gara, a director of research awards for the foundation and himself a former Wisconsinite, who will work with the UW. Gara contrasted the foundation’s grants with those of the NIH, which tend to be focused more towards basic research. “We are funding research that has a commercial goal or a product in mind that will ultimately benefit patients.”
For the granting process, the Miami, Florida-based foundation looked for universities with strong biomedical engineering departments, medical schools with a record of collaboration with biomedical engineers, and other factors such existing infrastructure for transfers and spin-off companies and a receptive marketplace. Beginning with over 60 applicants a year ago, the foundation eventually narrowed the list down to nine final grantees, including the UW.
While the extensive research facilities at UW-Madison are not especially lacking for resources, and projects that are transferred to the private sector are able to seek capital, the transfer process remains a somewhat underserved middle step, with far more applicants than could be served by current funds and infrastructure.
“How the tech-transfer process works, and especially on this campus, is that we get very early-stage technology that’s really not ready to go directly to a company,” said Andrew Cohn, public relations manager for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund. Cohn noted that while there are funds to help the translation process, such as the Draper Technology Innovation Fund, the total budget is only about $1 million annually, spread across various departments.
The Coulter Foundation’s grant is a welcome step in helping along a specific area of technology, Cohn explained. “This is another example of people attempting to fill what we call the `valley of death,’ which is where typical university researchers, when they’re done with the scientific process, they need additional funding to do additional experiments to prove its applicability to the marketplace.”
The outcome of translational research is a way of bringing the applications into the clinic, directly to the patient, either through a commercial product, or an intellectual property patent, or a licensed technology, said Robert Radwin, a professor and chair of the Biomedical Engineering department at UW-Madison.
“In this project, we are spending a great deal of attention on that aspect of the research,” Radwin said. “We anticipate that there will be spinout companies that will be formed from this research as well as patents through WARF.”