Gap Funding Helps UIC Professors Commercialize Discoveries

Four technologies being developed by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have been awarded the first UIC proof-of-concept gap funding grants, designed to help UIC faculty transition their inventions from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Projects to develop new blood tests for heart failure and colorectal cancer screening won funding for College of Medicine faculty members Samuel Dudley, Jr., Euy-Myoung Jeong, Xavier Llor and Rosa Xicola. Biopharmaceutical sciences and bioengineering professor Hayat Onyuksel won funding to demonstrate the potential of a medicine to treat liver fibrosis. Biological sciences professor Katherine Warpeha hopes to capitalize on a discovery by her laboratory to genetically modify food crop plants to better tolerate environmental stresses.

Up to $75,000 is available for winning proposals, to allow faculty to demonstrate their commercial potential to outside investors and venture capitalists.

Faculty who receive major federal or private research grants rarely get the funding needed to develop their discoveries for commercial use, says Nancy Sullivan, director of UIC’s Office of Technology Management.

“The initiative is designed to help our faculty take their innovative research forward to increase the opportunity to commercialize their ideas and inventions,” Sullivan said. “The goal is to create products and services that will help enhance people’s lives.

“The program is a partnership across the University of Illinois to help advance the amazing research being done on the UIC campus,” she said.

Earlier this year, 80 applications for funding were reviewed by an internal committee of UIC deans and other select members, who chose 12 project finalists. Detailed proposals were submitted to a group of business leaders and venture capitalists who then selected the four for gap funding.

UIC’s Office of Technology Management gets around 200 invention disclosures a year from faculty and staff — but many never enter the marketplace because they do not meet the demands of potential outside investors for tangible evidence that they have commercial potential.

“We often find the ideas we generate have the opportunity to transform lives, but it’s too early for industry to adopt,” Sullivan said. “Without mechanisms like the proof-of-concept initiative, faculty projects are stuck in a gap between research and commercialization.”

Projects that did not win gap funding this time are encouraged to reapply in subsequent rounds. Four additional projects are expected to be selected for funding by the end of this year.

The initiative is funded through a $500,000 contribution from UIC’s Office of Technology Management, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, the UIC colleges of Engineering, Medicine, and Pharmacy, and the University of Illinois Office of the Vice President for Research.

More information about UIC’s Office of Technology Management and the winning projects.

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

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