Philadelphia's University City Science Center's awards bridge funding gap between research grants and commercialization of technology
Hwyda Arafat, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University and co-director of the Jefferson Pancreatic, Biliary and Related Cancers Center, and Mon-Li Chu, Ph.D., Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Biology, were awarded $200,000 from the University City Science Center's QED Proof of Concept Program for their breakthrough work on a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer.
Developed at Jefferson, it is poised to be the first clinically reliable test for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA), the primary form of pancreatic cancer, which currently has no reliable system for early detection.
This is the first time Thomas Jefferson University has received a QED award, which stands for Quod Erat Demonstrandum or "proven as demonstrated." Drs. Arafat and Chu's project was one of three to be selected to receive funding awards in Round 4.
The QED Program is designed to facilitate commercial investment in early-stage life science technologies with high potential in the healthcare industry. Awards are made to bridge the funding gap between research grants and commercial seed investment by awarding grants to life science technologies with high potential in the healthcare industry.
"As a longstanding supporter of the QED Program, Jefferson is truly excited to receive its first funding award," said Steven McKenzie, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, and Vice President for Research at Thomas Jefferson University. "The QED program offers a unique chance for research faculty to engage in product-oriented research guided by entrepreneurs, investors, and companies. These opportunities are a big part of the momentum we're seeing in technology commercialization in our region."
In addition to the $200,000 award, each research team receives one year of business guidance from the Science Center's network of experienced entrepreneurs to help them bring their technologies to market.
The projects were selected from 10 finalists by an independent group comprised of industry and investment professionals. The Jefferson team is receiving input from QED Business Advisors Chris Blaxland, Dave Hesson and Don Skerrett.
"It's an honor to be recognized by the Science Center with this award," said Dr. Arafat. "Given the outcome for so many pancreatic cancer patients, it's imperative we find better tools to detect this deadly cancer earlier. This funding will help me and my Jefferson colleagues to further develop our research and apply it to a diagnostic product that could potentially be used to help save lives."
PDA is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States and worldwide, with the number of diagnosed cases virtually equaling the number of deaths. Currently, there is no diagnostic marker for PDA. Based upon data showing higher levels of COL6A3 protein in PDA patients, Jefferson's Proof‐of‐Concept Plan is proposing to conduct a study with a larger patient cohort to develop new antibodies that could be used for a diagnostic assay.
A reliable diagnostic for PDA is expected to save lives through early intervention, and to have economic benefits by reducing unneeded surgeries, laparoscopic biopsies and wrong diagnoses.
"The funding and the recognition of the QED award are critical for moving our technology from the lab to potential commercialization," said Dr. Chu. "This award would not have been possible without the continuous support from the Office of Technology Transfer."