chosen ones

Collaborative life science organization selects 7 innovators for inaugural Houston cohort

Each innovator selected was chosen for their commitment to addressing health care challenges and their sheer brilliance in their subjects. Photo via Getty Images

A group of seven groundbreaking scientists has been chosen as the first cohort of a top-flight new program for medical innovators.

Last year, the National Institute of Health (NIH) awarded the Gulf Coast Consortium with a $4 million grant. Its use? The Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub, known as REACH. REACH combines the powers of one of the world’s largest inter-institutional cooperatives — including eight Houston-area medical research organizations— to help accelerate fledgling innovations.

According to program manager Lacey Tezino, REACH received 31 applications over the course of a month last fall.

“They were really solid applications. I was just like, ‘Can we take all of them?’” Tezino tells InnovationMap.

The seven successful applicants were chosen through technology feedback forums led by experts in each field represented. According to Tezino, some of the industry and subject-matter experts went on to become mentors to the members of the first cohort, while others were simply too busy to contribute more of their time.

But the seven teams that were selected can rest assured that they’re in spectacular hands.

“When you are bringing a novel technology to us, I can find someone who is an expert in almost anything that you're doing within health care technology — everyone's at our fingertips. So when it comes to getting advisors, because we're in the Texas Medical Center, the network that we have in the ecosystem is so rich with health care technology, that the support that those who apply for REACH is sort of unmatched,” Tezino says.

Even more impressive, Tezino explains that there are NIH officers waiting to review the projects. For early-stage entrepreneurs, that means that they will be pushed to gain what will likely be their first NIH and SBIR (small business innovation research) grants.

“We get their plan together and then we basically put them on a platter for the NIH,” says Tezino.

Each innovator selected was chosen for their commitment to addressing health care challenges and their sheer brilliance in their subjects, says Tezino. They include:

  • Fernanda Laezza, from the University of Texas Medical Branch, who is seeking to create next-generation pain medications by developing small-molecule drugs.
  • Robert Y. Tsai, from Texas A&M University Institute for Biosciences and Technology, who is testing a medicated, mucoadhesive patch as a non-invasive treatment of oral precancers.
  • Jean X. Jiang and Johanna Webb, from Riverwalk Therapeutics in San Antonio, who are working on new treatments for metastatic cancer and fibrotic retinal diseases.
  • Nadia German, from Texas Tech University, who seeks to treat triple-negative breast cancer and neuropathic pain with novel drugs.
  • Daniel Diaz and his team at Intelligent Proteins in Houston, who are using AI tools to engineer new proteins for use in cancer treatments.
  • From Texas A&M University, Thomas Kent is developing oxidized carbon nanoparticles to treat mitochondrial diseases, including Friedreich’s ataxia.
  • Mario Escobar, from Rice University, who is advancing a novel biologic gene therapy to treat heart failure.

The REACH program lasts nine months, but before the end of that time, the GCC will have recruited and begun working with the next cohort. Interested scientists can apply for the program on a rolling basis at Tezino says that GCC plans to work with three cohorts a year, so there are ample opportunities for qualified candidates.

Trending News