/  June 1, 2017

Innovation Fund Spring 2017 Winners

The CoMotion Innovation Fund is a partnership between CoMotion and the Washington Research Foundation to support innovations that have a high chance of creating impact but are unlikely to get there without additional funding. ”Our program is intended to help technologies and ideas get across the tipping point between the conclusion of academic research grants and the level of development at which they can attract seed stage investment,” Jeanette Ennis, the Associate Director of Innovation Investments, emphasizes.
 
Awardees of the one-year grants receive up to $40,000 for technical development, and an additional $10,000 to fund business development tasks. CoMotion also assembles a team of people with business, IP, technical, and startup expertise to support the project goals. 
 
This Spring 2017, CoMotion is pleased to announce the awardees of Innovation Fund Grants. Nine winning teams were selected in engineering and the life sciences. 
 
Redox-Mediated Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization: Currently many high performance plastics are produced with metal catalysts which are expensive, hard to work with and leech metals so cannot be used for medical or water applications. A team, led by Professor A.J. Boydston in the Department of Chemistry, is developing a catalyst that enables the only metal-free production of a specialty class of high-performance plastics. This method will significantly reduce the manufacturing cost for plastics used in structural applications, such as vehicle body parts, as well as open up new applications such a piping and medical devices. 
 
Pharma-seq: Half of all drugs fail after reaching late-stage clinical trials, mostly due to safety concerns, costing pharmaceutical companies considerable money and time. A significant cause of failure is when a prospective drug interacts with a non-target protein, but there is no cost effective test for these non-enzymatic protein interactions. To remedy this, David Younger and Bob Lamm, both doctoral candidates in the Department of Bioengineering, are working to develop a platform that will let pharmaceutical companies rapidly screen their drug candidates for off-target effects on protein interactions that otherwise might not present themselves until late into clinical trials or even after a drug is on the market. 
 
Seto Lab Sensors: Every year, more than six million people globally die because of diseases caused by air pollution. However, current air quality monitoring technology is expensive, limiting the number of monitors that can be deployed. To combat this, Edmund Seto, a professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, and Graeme Carvlin, a PhD student, have designed a fully-calibrated networked multi-pollutant air quality monitor that can be deployed in large numbers to provide real-time web access to air quality data in communities. The system measures multiple pollutants, and provides both government agencies and the public with immediate access to these data, at a fraction of the cost of conventional air monitoring technologies. 
 
cGAS-STING: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a systemic autoimmune disorder characterized by chronic inflammation of multiple organs, including the skin, joints, lungs, heart, kidneys, and brain. Between 5 – 10% of those afflicted with SLE will die within ten years. Current therapy for this disease is inadequate, and most drugs used to treat moderate to severe lupus have unacceptable side effects. Indeed, only one drug has been approved for the treatment of lupus in the last fifty years, and it has only modest effects compared to placebo. But the team at Amdax Therapeutics, led by Professor Keith Elkon at the UW School of Medicine, have synthesized a small-molecule drug that computer models predict will block a key biochemical pathway called cGAS-STING. They will use the Innovation Fund Grant to continue to test the efficacy of this drug, with the hope of moving closer to FDA clinical trials. 
 
UXV Enabled Autonomous Warehouse Inventory Tracking and Visualization: Every company on the planet with any significant supply chain operation has an inventory reconciliation problem. In the U.S. alone, industry and trade spends over $18 billion per year in labor to take physical inventory. A team led by Kristi Morgansen Hill, a Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is developing drones that are equipped with cameras to continuously survey inventory during times or in spaces when employees are absent. These drones can identify items based on barcode scanning and visual object recognition, register them to their physical location, and provide a 3D map and inventory list that is compatible with the company’s Enterprise Resource Planning system.
 
Generating high affinity, antigen-specific IgM antibodies: Malaria is a major global health burden in urgent need of new therapeutics due to the increased dissemination of drug-resistant parasites. Doctors have long known that the transfer of human immune serum can eliminate the parasite that causes malaria during the blood stage of infection. To date, therapeutic efforts have focused on vaccines that will elicit antibodies against the parasite at its life cycle stage in the liver prior to the blood stage infection. However, malaria-specific antibodies have been difficult to isolate due to technical limitations. Dr. Marion Pepper of the Department of Immunology has developed a method to produce recombinant, high-affinity malaria-specific antibodies as a therapeutic or prophylactic vaccine for passive serum transfer. 
 
Material Frontier: Carbon fiber composites are being rapidly adopted in new airplanes like the Boeing Dreamliner because of their high strength and light weight, promising sustainability and increased flight range. However, a lack of understanding of how these materials can fail or break severely limits their adoption, jeopardizing potential profits and fuel savings. Anthony Waas, a Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Paul Davidson, and Ashith Joseph are building a virtual testing platform that will reduce the burdens associated with developing composite parts in terms of cost, manpower and time. Using this virtual testing platform, most of the necessary tests can be done using advanced failure simulation software already in use by major airframe manufacturers. The Innovation Fund Grant will take these research tools from the lab to the real world in the form of robust, easy-to-use commercial software.
 
Harnessing the Power of Symbiotic Bacteria to Fight Fungal Pathogens of Crops: In natural, high‐stress environments, plants use partnerships with beneficial bacteria to naturally defend themselves against fungal pathogens. A project led by Sharon Doty of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences will build on earlier work harnessing those wild microbes to help agricultural crops thrive without using environmentally damaging industrial chemicals. 
 
The Artery Mapper:
Arterial cannulation is the placement of a special catheter into systemic arteries to facilitate continuous blood pressure reading and to provide vascular access for obtaining blood samples without the need for repeated arterial punctures. It is a procedure often necessary in patient care, but finding an artery can be difficult, sometimes leading to painful blood blisters and potentially serious complications.. The Artery Mapper, developed by a team led by Dr. Sheena Hembrador of the UW School of Medicine, will help solve this problem. The device senses the pressure of the pulsating artery through the skin, and uses that to display the artery’s location and insertion trajectory. This shows the provider a clear path to aim the needle, and simplifies the procedure so it can be done right every time saving money, time and patient pain.
 
 
Congratulations to all the winners!