Coulter Foundation, CWRU establish $20M endowment for biomedical engineering projects

Case Western Reserve University and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation have established a $20 million endowment to support the translation of ideas that address unmet medical needs into treatments and devices that improve human health.

The foundation and university jointly created the endowment after the foundation’s original $4.8 million partnership grant, which funded projects at the university from 2006 to 2011. The new endowment will enable the Wallace H. Coulter Translational Research Partnership program at Case Western Reserve to continue in perpetuity.

“We are delighted to have this opportunity to advance efforts to bring life-saving technologies from the laboratory to the people who need them most,” President Barbara R. Snyder said. “This endowment will expand our ability to pursue biomedical engineering research that will change the face of health care. We thank the Coulter Foundation for its generous support and strong sense of purpose.”

Case Western Reserve was one of only nine universities in the United States selected to participate in the Coulter Foundation’s Translational Research Partnerships in Biomedical Engineering, and one of only six to receive endowment funding; the others are Drexel University, Duke University, University of Michigan, Stanford University and University of Virginia. The generous initial grant of $4.8 million from the foundation was bolstered in 2009 with $2.25 million in private gifts to the university from anonymous donors. The program at Case Western Reserve has helped launch six startup companies and has funded 62 translational research projects to date. Such projects range across a broad spectrum of biomedical disciplines—from advanced imaging technology techniques to thermally-stable insulin development—and each is founded on an active collaboration between a biomedical engineering researcher and a practicing clinician.

“This program started out as an ambitious endeavor to link the relatively new discipline of bioengineering to translational research,” said Sue Van, president of the Coulter Foundation. “With the capabilities and financial sustainability of this endowment, Case Western Reserve is now a champion at the forefront of translational research and can systematically and successfully move innovation out of the university to benefit humanity.”

Elias Caro, vice president of technology development at the foundation, said: “As a member of the Coulter program, Case Western Reserve adopted the Coulter Process, an industry-like development process that includes a thorough commercialization analysis which assesses intellectual property, FDA requirements, reimbursement, critical milestones and clinical adoption. This attracted follow-on funding from venture capital and biomedical companies.”

Located in Cleveland—a healthcare hub that boasts the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic among its medical leaders—Case Western Reserve sits at a nexus of discovery where basic research leads to commercial applications that then result in start-up companies or collaborations with existing industry. The Coulter Process helped to advance Case Western Reserve’s translational efforts by providing one model for how to quickly and efficiently turn bioengineering research into medical products and clinical practices.

The Coulter grants work differently than those from the National Institutes of Health and other federal research agencies. “The Coulter Process more closely resembles a business model,” said Jeffrey L. Duerk, PhD, chairman of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve. “The projects have quarterly milestones and can be shelved by the oversight committee if milestones are not met. This is not standard practice for academic grants. With the Coulter Process, there is strong emphasis on the successful transfer to commercialization.”

Seven of the partnership projects have resulted in a license to either a regional start-up company or an existing firm, said Joseph Jankowski, PhD, Case Western Reserve’s associate vice president for technology management. “Each of these outcomes is exciting in that it represents an external for-profit assuming the continued commercialization and funding activities for a program originally launched through the collaboration. In several cases, the projects have become the focus of multi-million dollar investments from private capital sources.”

“We are really pleased with our progress and results,” added Colin Drummond, PhD, director of the Coulter-Case Translational Research Partnership. “We have shown that the Coulter Process works in academia. We are pleased to move forward with this generous additional support.”

Case Western Reserve’s biomedical engineering department is a joint department of the Case School of Engineering and the School of Medicine.

View a highlights video of Tuesday’s event on YouTube.