UCLA Health wins $750,000 grant to scale COVID-19 innovations and support health equity

UCLA Health has received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to scale healthcare innovations for COVID-19 response and recovery and to support health equity through BioFutures, a new LA County workforce development program for diversity in the biosciences.

The grant is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce's $29 million Scaling Pandemic Resilience Through Innovation and Technology (SPRINT) Challenge.

At $750,000, it is the largest-possible single award, with amounts ranging from $200,000 to $750,000. In its announcement, the EDA said the challenge "was launched to harness America's entrepreneurial potential to address the economic, health, and safety risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic through entrepreneurship and innovation."

Desert Horse-Grant, chief of innovation at UCLA Hospital System and co-executive director of UCLA Biodesign, said the grant will be used to create the Los Angeles Response to COVID (LA-R2C) Accelerator, a vehicle for the rapid assessment and acceleration of novel health technologies that support pandemic response and resilience.

Our goal is to scale innovative bioscience technology in four areas that are essential to health security and the regional economy - prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and health equity."

Desert Horse-Grant, chief of innovation at UCLA Hospital System

"The Los Angeles region was acutely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact was even greater within communities of color and those who do not have equitable access to care. The LA-R2C Accelerator is a platform to address the impact of this double pandemic through addressing inequalities at the front end of innovation instead of at the time of translation."

Jennifer McCaney, PhD, co-executive director of UCLA Biodesign and assistant director of the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute, said the grant award recognizes the building momentum of the bioscience industry in Los Angeles and the region's commitment to delivering long-term economic growth through an equitable approach to innovation.

"The voice of community stakeholders is essential to designing and advancing solutions that directly meet the needs of diverse communities. Through investment in startup creation as well as education, in partnership with the BioscienceLA BioFutures Program, we are seeking to address workforce development and workforce diversity in parallel. As the effects of the pandemic ebb and flow in the coming years, now is the time to invest in our future, one where economic stability and health security are closely intertwined."

A collaboration between UCLA Health and the UCLA Biodesign Hub for Medical Technology and Digital Health, LA-R2C plans to begin accepting applications to the program in July. Over 40 healthcare industry leaders have joined the call to action in supporting Horse-Grant and McCaney in the initiative to boost regional connectivity and partnerships among the bioscience industry, community organizations, health systems and investors. This includes Roche, which expedited product development to support the urgent need for patient testing, successfully launching the first commercial test for the coronavirus, as well as a series of other in vitro diagnostic tests.

"The global diagnostics industry has come together in an unprecedented effort to support the urgent need for patient testing during the pandemic and help prevent the further spread of the virus," a Roche representative said. "Roche highly values the collaboration with organizations like the UCLA Biodesign Hub for the continued development of solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic."

SPRINT funding also will support the BioFutures Program, a new initiative established by BioScienceLA and funded by LA County. The competitive program will connect students from underrepresented backgrounds with subsidized internships and career development programming. "The UCLA LA-R2C Accelerator will play a critical role in strengthening LA's pandemic recovery and addressing ongoing health disparities in our communities. I am encouraged by the investment from the LA-R2C Accelerator and BioscienceLA BioFutures Program to support our growing bioscience innovation infrastructure while championing a diverse and equitable workforce. The collaboration demonstrates that economic development, equity, and inclusion can be - and must be - advanced in parallel," said 10th District Councilmember, Mark Ridley-Thomas.

"BioscienceLA is honored to collaborate on this initiative, especially through our recently launched BioFutures Program. Diversity unlocks innovation, which is essential for the development of healthcare solutions that must serve an increasingly diverse population. BioFutures interns, local college students from underrepresented backgrounds, will have an opportunity to help develop solutions for COVID-19 and future pandemics while gaining important work experience," said David J. Whelan, CEO of BioscienceLA.

In addition to providing paid internships, BioFutures will offer students opportunities to gain experience through mentorships and networking events. An alumni program will help them maintain connections.

Horse-Grant, McCaney and pediatric infectious disease specialist Annabelle de St. Maurice, MD, MPH, the co-chief infection prevention officer at UCLA Health, led UCLA's efforts to pursue the grant. Forty-four organizations in 25 states and Puerto Rico were selected from a pool of 238 applicants, according to the EDA. The $750,000 grant will be matched by $187,500 locally.

"The awarding of this grant signifies the increasing recognition of UCLA Health as an innovator and major force in the biotech and medtech community of Southern California," said Johnese Spisso, RN, MPA, president of UCLA Health, CEO of UCLA Hospital System, and associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences. "More importantly, it will enable UCLA Health to work with community partners to counter the impact that COVID-19 has had on all of our lives, build on the technology infrastructure that will ensure a brighter future, and address issues of health equity and equal opportunities throughout our communities."

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