The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has been awarded $4 million over the next four years from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hubs (REACH) grant. As a result, the university is now part of a national network of research institutions sharing best practices around commercialization of academic discoveries.
As the primary funding agency for biomedical research, the NIH has been reflecting on ways to support the translation of early-stage discoveries from the lab to the patients. The REACH program has been a major initiative of NIH for this goal by creating a network of institutions across the country. Most recently, as the second cycle of the REACH program, NIH awarded $20 million to fund five medtech hubs to speed the translation of biomedical developments into commercially viable products. CU Anschutz is one of those hubs.
Richard Duke, PhD, the principal investigator on the Colorado REACH hub grant and a faculty member in the CU School of Medicine Division of Medical Oncology stated, “Having been a biomedical researcher and academic entrepreneur at CU Anschutz for nearly 40 years, I am excited to witness the translation of the numerous and varied inventions of my faculty colleagues into products that impact patients’ lives, which the REACH grant funding will support.”
Through CU Innovations, the office that leads business development and commercialization efforts of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, and the SPARK Colorado program, a commercialization initiative of the office supported by the Chancellor Donald Elliman Jr., the campus has in place the expertise and track record of success in supporting faculty-led innovations and accelerating commercialization. SPARK Colorado, founded in 2018, has been assisting CU Anschutz faculty and researchers in the process of transitioning their discoveries into products that will improve health. The program provides funding, industry mentorship, and a curriculum tailored to the needs of participating members. Current projects span biomedicine ranging from surgery, ophthalmology to oncology. The aims of the REACH and SPARK programs are complementary, namely providing faculty and researchers early on with necessary skillsets and resources regarding product development, project management and commercialization.
Chancellor Donald Elliman Jr. speaking at a SPARK event
The grant enables CU Anschutz to expand and enhance already successfully established SPARK program and will be used to support translational projects and their product development efforts. Additional funding will be utilized for educational initiatives and leveraging existing educational resources like the Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program of the Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI). Elaine Morrato, DrPH, who is directing I-Corps and is faculty in the Colorado School of Public Health, will be leading educational initiatives of the REACH program expressed her excitement. “REACH will broaden educational mentorship, experiential customer-discovery learning and networking opportunities with stakeholders and further accelerate entrepreneur culture change within our academic health sciences campus.”
Steve VanNurden, MBA, Associate Vice Chancellor of Biotechnology and CEO of Fitzsimmons Redevelopment Authority, agreed. “We are among a handful of campuses in the country that has the university, hospitals and an innovation community all in one site. REACH will be a new and exciting platform for various parties on the campus and in Colorado to partner and collaborate in moving the biotech industry forward. It will have a very positive impact on the economic development of the State of Colorado.”
Similarly, CU Innovations Executive Director Kimberly Muller highlighted how REACH will leverage the existing SPARK infrastructure in taking commercialization of CU Anschutz technologies to new heights. “SPARK Colorado provided resources to faculty inventors to realize their dreams for helping patients. REACH will bring in extra resources and critical connections that NIH will be providing through its public-private partnerships.”
In its second year, part of the funding for the SPARK program came from the Advanced Industries Accelerator (AIA) program of the State of Colorado, Office of Economic Development (OEDIT). AIA was created by the State Legislature in 2006 to support development of biomedical technologies arising from Colorado’s research institutions. CU Anschutz will leverage state funds to attract additional funding from the NIH, industry and investors.
This will be a major boost to diversifying Colorado’s economy and will bring in major actors under a broad umbrella. University of Colorado Cancer Center, Colorado Bioscience Association (CBSA), University of Colorado Denver Business School, The State of Colorado Office of Economic Development (OEDIT), Rockies Venture Club, and the Small Business Administration all expressed their trust in CU Anschutz in building this hub through their support letters.
Donald Elliman Jr., Chancellor of CU Anschutz, thanked all parties within the campus who worked together and community partners who expressed their support for realizing CU Anschutz’s full potential in commercialization. “We are honored to be recognized by NIH as a high-impact research institution. REACH will increase our engagement with technology development experts and investors,-- toward our end goal of developing innovative health products to help patients thrive” he added.