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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Joins 'Catalyst' Bioscience Consortium

Old Dominion University is the newest member of the Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corporation (VBHRC), also called the Catalyst, the organization's board of directors announced on Tuesday, April 29.

ODU joins the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University and Eastern Virginia Medical School as a member of the consortium, which was formed last year by the state government and the founding institutions. The consortium's primary goal is to promote bioscience commercialization projects between Virginia's research institutions and private companies.

The announcement coincided with the formal award of $1.25 million in grants from the Catalyst to four collaborative projects. These awards are being matched dollar for dollar by federal grants and/or direct industry contribution, creating a cumulative $2.5 million investment.

ODU and its business partners will be eligible to submit bioscience project proposals during the next round of funding.

"The Board of Directors of the Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corporation is most pleased to welcome Old Dominion University as the sixth participating university," said Jerry Giles, chairman of the organization's board. "It is an exceptionally fine university with ever expanding commitments to and capabilities in the field of the biosciences."

ODU's research teams generate $88 million in annual funding through more than 400 ongoing projects. Supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, Department of Defense and other funding sources, ODU researchers work in a variety of bioscience and health fields, including modeling and simulation and bioelectrics.

Rodger Harvey, chair of ODU's Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and interim vice president for research, said he began exploring possible membership for ODU last fall. This led to the invitation to join.

ODU invested $50,000 in its first year's membership, Harvey added. "This has the potential to provide return for research dollars for the university, since only members can apply for the funds." Harvey said ODU's invitation for membership "is an important opportunity to partner with other research universities to improve the health of all Virginians. ODU will join with the five other institutions to promote research collaborations, build commercial partnerships and enhance economic growth and opportunities across the commonwealth."

The inaugural grants awarded by the Catalyst represent opportunities to accelerate translational research in the Virginia life sciences community. Each selected program addresses an area of scientific importance with considerable unmet need in the health care community, and defines a pathway through research stages toward commercialization. The collaborative projects receiving awards will investigate breakthrough platforms and treatments to:

accelerate the discovery and successful development of new cancer drugs;

reposition an existing drug to combat brain cancer;

foster tissue repair and regeneration in diabetes and heart disease; and

more effectively treat inflammatory bowel disease.

Commenting on the awards, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said, "Bioscience is on the leading edge, and translational R&D investments have a very high economic impact in total jobs, increased annual state tax revenue and lifelong health science benefits. The Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corporation is a unique and great example of a public-private partnership that will bring highly innovative companies into direct collaboration with leading Virginia universities to build on Virginia's growing momentum in this strategic sector."

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones, a member of the VBHRC board of directors, commented, "VBHRC is a highly focused and disciplined strategy that draws out innovative scientific and business talent from across the commonwealth, calling for substantive collaboration as a critical driver to maximize return on investment for both public and private funding."

Mike Grisham, the Catalyst CEO, added that a review panel of business leaders, investors and academic researchers unanimously agreed that the four funded projects "hold great promise to deliver significant advances for some of the most pressing health care issues today. By encouraging new collaborations between our world-class universities and the private sector in Virginia, we are helping to cultivate the expertise that makes us globally competitive, both now and in the future."

The funded programs include:

A platform to accelerate the discovery and successful development of new cancer drugs

Through collaboration among the University of Virginia, George Mason University and HemoShear Inc. of Charlottesville, this program will create an investigational platform that closely mimics the biology of human tumors. While the HemoShear platform will be created initially using a tumor cell line, it will be expanded in the future to replicate the biology of specific cancers using patient primary tumor cells. The program received $450,000 from VBHRC.

A new mechanism to make existing anti-cancer drugs more effective

The University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Tau Therapeutics, LLC, have partnered to advance the efforts to reposition the former hypertension drug mibefradil as a potential treatment for glioblastoma, a deadly primary malignant brain tumor that affects 10,000 Americans each year and is resistant to conventional cancer therapies. When added to traditional therapies, a T-type calcium channel inhibitor such as mibefradil may overcome the therapeutic resistance of the solid tumor cancers. The program received a $203,000 grant from VBHRC.

A technology that can foster tissue repair and regeneration in diabetes and heart disease

A first-in-class compound has been developed to speed the repair and regeneration of damaged tissue for some of the most prevalent and costly health conditions today. The investigational treatment has shown positive results in Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials evaluating repair of tissue damaged from heart attacks and diabetic foot ulcers. The development program, a joint effort by Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and FirstString Research Inc., received a $200,000 grant from the Catalyst to advance the drug development program into late-stage clinical studies.

A first-in-kind anti-inflammatory treatment for inflammatory bowel disease

This collaborative program among Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University and BioTherapeutics Inc., of Blacksburg, aims to advance a novel anti-inflammatory compound with a unique mechanism of action into the clinic through a progressive clinical study program. Inflammation is a primary cause of inflammatory bowel disease, a condition that affects more than 4 million people worldwide, and for which there are limited treatments. Preclinical testing indicates that the compound may be effective with limited toxicity. The program received $400,000 from VBHRC.