Published: 07-25-2021

With proper business development tools and insights into entrepreneurship, biomedical researchers can improve the potential of their discoveries in the laboratory reaching patients.

I-Corps@NCATS, a University of Miami (UM) Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) program, helps entrepreneurial-minded researchers move their new drugs, diagnostics, technologies, and devices forward to the next stage of development.

Apply to the I-Corps@NCATS Fall 2021 Course here and select Miami as your site.

With a recent supplemental grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), this program has further expanded its reach regionally in South Florida and across the state.

“The only way to make these interventions sustainable is to get them picked up by a business or to create a new business with a sustainable business model,” says Molly Wasko, Ph.D., Program Director for I-Corps at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Principal Investigator of the I-Corps@NCATS Supplemental Grant.

“We hope to give our academic researchers another point of view to look at their research—the point of view of a patient, or a user, or the beneficiary of their science.”

Research teams participating in the five-week I-Corps@NCATS course use a tool called the Business Model Canvas to better understand their customers. “Faculty at universities are at the forefront of scientific discoveries but great ideas mat not always translate to meet their customers’ needs in the real world,” says Suhrud Rajguru, Ph.D., Director of I-Corps@NCATS at UM. “The only way we can do that is by going out of our labs and interviewing potential customers, partners, as well as competitors.”

“For a clinician with a medical device that has commercial potential, the I-Corps@NCATS program is a real jumpstart. It was well organized and yet filled with spontaneity – a great learning experience,” says Alana L. Grajewski, M.D., Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology and
Director of The Samuel & Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center at The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Dr. Grajewski’s team is developing a tele-health glaucoma diagnostic management solution.

The University of Miami is one of nine founding hubs for I-Corps@NCATS, which recently expanded to include 22 institutions throughout the U.S. The UM team, led by Dr. Rajguru, will continue to offer the regional program and train the leaders of new programs at other institutions.

Dr. Rajguru has been involved with I-Corps@NCATS since 2016, which is a spinoff of the original, broader I-Corps program offered by the National Science Foundation. “This short course is specifically designed to help academic researchers and over time, I’ve become better at it because I learn more about the complexities involved in commercializing research,” says Rajguru. “We’ve refined it further to help the teams and increase their chances of success.”

Under his leadership, the I-Corps@NCATS program at UM has trained 44 research teams to-date. Of those, 25 have advanced to the next phase of commercialization, including securing federal grants, establishing startup companies, pursuing venture capital opportunities, and engaging licensing deals.

Hassan Al-Ali, Ph.D., who recently came aboard as co-instructor for I-Corps@NCATS at UM, has firsthand experience leveraging its tools. Over the past 5 years, his team launched a tech startup and developed a drug candidate that shows promise for promoting nerve regeneration in the Central Nervous System. Dr. Al-Ali was a member of the program’s first cohort at UM offered by Dr. Rajguru in 2017.

“South Florida has become attractive to entrepreneurs and investors who are leaving traditional tech hubs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic”, says Al-Ali. He believes now is the time for the region’s biomedical researchers to prove their ideas have staying power.

“There’s a lot of innovative research in Florida, but it hasn’t traditionally been in our culture to actively think about commercialization. There’s a break in the pipeline,” he says. “The expansion of I-Corps@NCATS can make a significant impact on accelerating the emergence of the biotech startup scene in South Florida.”

This is exactly the kind of support Dr. Al-Ali wished he’d had while trying to launch his own startup. “I get a lot of satisfaction knowing they don’t have to wander and meander the way I did. I see teams accomplish in a matter of four weeks a journey that took me a year.”

Dr. Al-Ali says he would like to be part of the cultural shift that promotes a spirit of entrepreneurship in the region. He is especially excited to work with junior faculty at UM who have entrepreneurial interests but may not see a clear path to accelerating their work outside of academia. “I want to talk to these young innovators, give them guidance, and assure them what they’re doing makes sense.”

Supporting a cultural shift is a top priority for Dr. Rajguru as well. He says, “There are so many discoveries happening at UM and at institutions across the nation that need to go out into the world to benefit people.”

To learn more about the I-Corps@NCATS program at the Miami CTSI and to apply for the upcoming Fall 2021 short course, visit our web page here.




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