Research News

Innovation Hub awards $450,000 to rapidly commercialize technology

Concept of innovation.


Published April 10, 2020

“True innovation is the result of connections. The Innovation Hub connects the disruptors, the innovators and the big thinkers to the resources needed to move products to the marketplace and ideas to impact. ”
Christina Orsi, associate vice president for economic development

The Innovation Hub, an initiative that supports the region’s growing startup economy, has added six more research innovations to its funded projects, bringing to 13 the number of teams that have received investment funds since the program’s inception in 2019.

The $450,000 in this round of funding stems from a $32 million investment in the Innovation Hub from Empire State Development, with $13.5 million allocated to support emerging technologies from UB and its partner institutions.

UB’s office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships administers the fund and supports each team on its path to commercialization and beyond through new and existing incubation centers, startup outreach and support services.

One of those startup services is the National Science Foundation I-Corps Site Program at UB. I-Corps teaches researchers and innovators how to evaluate a technology for the marketplace. An important goal of the I-Corps program is to encourage technical entrepreneurship and teach teams how to think about commercialization. This program runs several times a year through Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships.

All of the award winners, with the exception of Bing Gong and Dhaval K. Shah, participated in the I-Corps program. Gong and Shah’s technologies underwent customer discovery through the UB Technology Transfer Office to determine there were attractive market opportunities. The customer discovery process is integral in informing the accelerator proposals by providing evidence of commercial opportunities. 

“True innovation is the result of connections. The Innovation Hub connects the disruptors, the innovators and the big thinkers to the resources needed to move products to the marketplace and ideas to impact,” says Christina Orsi, associate vice president for economic development at UB.

The newly funded teams — five from UB and one from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center — are developing new innovations around immunotherapies; cell, tissue and organ preservation; easy-to-apply suturing methods; wind turbine technology; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents; and antibody engineering.
The award winners and their innovations:

Therapeutic Efficacy of A Drug that Blocks Immune Suppression & Enhances Anti-Tumor Response

Richard Bankert, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Immunotherapeutic drugs have been found to be effective in treating several types of cancer. However, lasting responses are reported in less than 30% of patients. A $99,311 award will help advance development of a novel compound that has been shown to enhance the efficacy of existing immunotherapy treatments. 

Bing Gong.

Self-Assembling Pores for Biopreservation

Bing Gong, Department of Chemistry

The preservation of cells, tissues and organs is commonly required in the fields of biological research and clinical medicine. Cryoprotectant agents (CPAs) are generally used to improve the post-thaw viability of cryopreserved biological samples. Current CPAs are commonly applied at high concentrations in order to aid their delivery into cells. At high concentrations, these CPAs are often toxic and always require careful removal during post-thaw processing.

A $70,000 reward, with a $70,000 match from an industry sponsor, will advance a series of novel pore-forming molecule that temporarily alters cell permeability, allowing low-cost, nontoxic, low-concentration CPAs to be effectively delivered across cell membranes.

Khurshid Guru.

Swift Stitch

Khurshid Guru, Department of Urology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Internal suturing is a necessary procedure during many surgeries. Sutures must be placed quickly and consistently to manage costs and avoid patient risks. Some surgeons choose to utilize staplers, which save time but introduce additional complications.

A $99,390 award will assist in creating an intracorporeal auto-suturing device that promises to increase surgical efficiency and safety while reducing the suturing learning curve for young surgeons.

John Hall.

Active Morphing Wind Turbine Blade to achieve Higher Efficiency, Production, and Reliability

John Hall, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Wind energy technology needs improved energy production and higher reliability to maintain or grow market share and reduce the cost of production. Design innovations to improve wind turbine performance (energy production), system reliability, required infrastructure and maintenance reduces overall usage costs.

Turbine blades affect all these factors, since they are the main tools that convert wind energy into mechanical motion. Current blade design prevents wind turbines from being used to their full potential. Modifying the design could increase production by 11% for a commercial wind turbine.

A $94,362 award will help Hall and postdoctoral researcher Hamid Khakpour with the design of a new wind turbine blade with active morphing twist capability to increase wind turbine performance and reliability.

Janet Morrow.

Iron-based Organic Polyhedra as MRI Contrast Agents for Glioma Imaging

Janet Morrow and Timothy Cook, Department of Chemistry

MRI is an important imagining tool used extensively in clinical medicine. Approximately 40 million MRI scans are performed annually in the U.S., with 40% requiring the use of a contrast agent to enhance imaging.

All contrast agents currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration use gadolinium, a rare earth element once considered safe, but is now linked to nephrogenic systemic fibrosis. The FDA and European Medicines Agency have become increasingly concerned about gadolinium deposits in brain tissue, bone and skin of patients with multiple exposures, and have placed restrictions on the use of gadolinium contrast agents.

Timothy Cook.

The Morrow and Cook team will use a $49,735 award to develop a new MRI contrast agent that replaces gadolinium with iron-derived compounds. Morrow is co-founder of Ferric Contrast, a startup that is working to commercialize this product.

Development of Acid-Switch ADCs to Treat HER2 Expressing Solid Tumors

Dhaval K. Shah, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADCs) are a class of molecules which promise to selectively deliver chemotherapeutic drugs precisely to cancer cells, avoiding toxic side effects typically associated with chemotherapy. Despite significant recent advancements, ADCs have suffered from lack of efficacy in low antigen expressing patients and off-target toxicity.

Dhaval Shah.

The $80,000 award will assist Shah and his team in using antibody engineering approaches to improve cellular delivery of ADCs, thereby mitigating their toxic effects and improving their potency.

Innovation Hub applications are accepted on a biannual basis. The current funding schedule is found on the program’s website.

Innovation Hub supports moving innovative, technology-driven solutions to current and future problems to have a wide-ranging positive local, national and global impact. Applicants must be from UB or partner organizations Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, The Jacobs Institute, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and Kaleida Health.