Photo of a scientist using a pipette in a lab setting

Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership awards $1.1 million in funding and support for promising biomedical engineering university technologies

The Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership (CCTRP) between Case Western Reserve University and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation has announced more than $1.1 million in 2019 funding and support for seven biomedical technologies.

The seven Case Western Reserve projects were selected for full program funding, which ranges from $50,000 to $200,000 each. Several additional pilot projects have or will be awarded funding by year’s end. All projects are partnerships between a clinician and a biomedical engineer, and are focused on solving areas of unmet clinical need.

The 13-year-old program invests more than $1 million annually in direct funding and support services to help research teams from Case Western Reserve advance products from the laboratory to the marketplace, where they can improve patient care.

The funding goes toward preparing projects for commercialization, such as demonstrating technical feasibility, and gauging their market feasibility and industry interest. The program has led to 24 startup companies and several other licenses that have delivered 30 technologies to patients.

“The Case-Coulter Translational Research Partnership continues to be a cornerstone of our department, filling an essential gap to transition university biomedical technologies from research to products, where they can significantly improve the health of our society,” said Robert Kirsch, the Allen H. and Constance T. Ford Professor and chair of the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

The Case-Coulter oversight committee reviewed 29 proposals during this cycle. Projects must have the potential to leave the university within 12 to 30 months.

“As a group, the quality of the evaluated technologies continues to improve each year, demonstrating the robustness of the biomedical technology pipeline” said CCTRP Director Stephen Fening. “We had many more proposals that were deserving of inclusion into the program than we were able to accommodate, making the selection process more challenging than ever.”

The seven projects selected and their inventors are:

BG34-200: a potent immunotherapeutic for melanoma, osteosarcoma, pancreatic cancer and other solid tumor cancers

Partnership: Mei Zhang, research assistant professor, biomedical engineering; and Alex Huang, professor of pediatrics and pathology

Technology: A significant fraction of patients with solid tumor cancers in metastatic and advanced settings do not respond to immunotherapies due to a lack of T-cell-inflamed tumor microenvironment. This botanical-derived non-toxic BG34-200 molecule can be intravenously injected to modulate macrophages and create a tumor microenvironment that is vital for the generation of antitumor T-cell responses.

Novel Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging agent for tumor detection and cancer treatment

Partnership: Susann Brady-Kalnay, professor of biology and microbiology; and Jim Basilion, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering

Technology: Specific tumor detection is critically important in cancer imaging to avoid unnecessary biopsies to exclude false-positive findings and to allow treatment—or redirection of treatment—at earlier stages of the disease. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging agents that specifically recognize tumor cells are necessary for improved imaging and subsequent evaluation of therapeutic efficacy independent of their metabolic rates. PTPµ is a novel imageable biomarker that can be used to specifically and more comprehensively detect and monitor aggressive invasive and metastatic tumors.

Computerized response assessment for immunotherapy score (CuRIS): ovarian and lung cancer

Partnership: Anant Madabhushi, the F. Alex Nason Professor II of Biomedical Engineering; and Michael Yang, assistant professor of pathology

Technology: Recently, several drugs targeting the programmed death-1 (PD-1) receptor and its ligand, PD-L1 (programmed cell death ligand-1) were approved for use in patients with advanced stage non-small cell lung and ovarian cancer. However, only about 20% of patients benefit from these drugs. The researchers will seek to develop, optimize, validate and use an advanced Artificial Intelligence based Immunotherapy Treatment Response (CuRiS) tool to develop predictive biomarkers from digital pathology to identify those patients who are not likely to respond to immunotherapy and hence could be candidates for alternative treatment regimens. The CuRiS tool could reduce ineffective treatments, toxicity and costs associated with these agents.  

Robust nanobubble contrast agents for real-time ultrasound guided prostate cancer biopsy

Partnership: Agata Exner, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering; and Jim Basilion, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering

Technology: This technology will enable a more efficient and effective prostate cancer diagnosis while building on the existing biopsy workflow and clinical ultrasound imaging technology. The nanobubble imaging agent will specifically target prostate cancer cells and serve as a beacon guiding the urologist, in real time, to possible tumors. Nanobubble-guided biopsies could identify tumors more accurately and could lead to fewer procedures, thus reducing risk, lowering costs and shortening the time to diagnosis and treatment.

NeutroStat: neutrophil-targeted nanomedicine for treating venous thromboembolism (VTE)

Partnership: Evi Stavrou, an Oscar D. Ratnoff Designated Professor in Medicine and Hematology.; and Anirban Sen Gupta, professor of biomedical engineering

Technology: NeutroStat is a nanomedicine technology that targets neutrophil-platelet complexes at the site of growing venous thrombi for site-specific delivery of therapeutic molecules to reduce neutrophil extracellular trap formation. Currently, venous thrombi are treated by downstream anticoagulant therapies that are associated with systemic bleeding risks in many patients. NeutroStat promises to reduce the upstream mechanisms that drive coagulation and thrombus formation, in a highly targeted fashion, that will significantly improve therapeutic safety and efficacy in the treatment of venous thromboembolism.

Photosorb: engineered sunscreen with single, multifunctional active ingredient

Partnership: Vijay Krishna, assistant staff in Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Edward Maytin, staff in Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Dermatology

Technology: Every year, more than one million new cases of skin cancer, including melanoma, are diagnosed in the United States. The primary cause is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from sunlight. Sunscreens can block UV, but increasing concerns about the health and environmental risks of chemical sunscreens now on the market underscores an urgent need for safer, more effective alternatives. A team from biomedical engineering and dermatology at Cleveland Clinic is developing a novel sunscreen (PhotoSorb) that appears to be safer and more stable than current sunscreens, and also has the potential to actually prevent skin cancers.

Three-dimensional ultrasound imaging for ophthalmology

Partnership: Faruk Orge, professor of pediatric ophthalmology and visual sciences; and David Wilson, the Robert J. Herbold Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Technology: A high resolution, 3-D ultrasound system and software for imaging the eye. Ultrasound is especially important for visualizing tissues behind the opaque iris, which is opaque to optical imaging. As compared to standard 2-D ultrasound imaging, 3-D enables rapid, intuitive understanding that will lead to improved diagnosis, treatment planning, and treatment assessment in ophthalmology. 3-D ultrasound enables never-before-possible visualization of ciliary processes, which are important for many eye conditions such as glaucoma.