Faculty Researchers Find the Perfect Match for Their Early-Stage Technologies

Early-stage research successes are like good love stories. Both require a serendipitous connection and a happy ending.

For faculty researchers, those happy endings often involve grant funds, and this year two researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center received a BIG grant.

William Gmeiner, PhD, and Thaddeus Wadas, PhD, both received the maximum grant amount for Biotechnology Innovation Grant—also known as the BIG grant—which provides funding from North Carolina Biotechnology Center for university researchers in the state to investigate the commercialization potential of their early-stage technologies.

Thaddeus Wadas, PhD, presents his research at the second annual Open Thinking showcase hosted by Wake Forest Innovations.

Gmeiner received the grant to determine whether CF10—a novel polymeric version of the marketed cancer drug Fluorouracil (5FU)—can treat solid tumors, specifically colorectal cancer, without the side-effects of Fluorouracil. Wadas was awarded the funds to validate his research on a novel method and composition for caging a radioactive isotope—Zirconium-89—to label antibodies for targeted imaging.

As in all good stories, our “heroes” faced many challenges along the way. Fortunately, Gmeiner and Wadas met the perfect match for their research: The Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization at Wake Forest Innovations.

“The two linchpins to receiving these grants were showing the scientific value of the research as well as demonstrating a clear path to commercialization,” says Daniel Yohannes, associate director of technology innovation at the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization.

These requirements made Wake Forest Innovations the right fit for the Wake Forest Baptist investigators. Yohannes partnered with Gmeiner and Janel Suburu, innovation associate with the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization, partnered with Wadas to help the researchers develop key components for their applications.

It was like it was meant to be.

The “Meet Cute”

Whether a chance meeting or a carefully planned intersection, the “meet cute” is that memorable moment when a story’s two pivotal characters meet in a unique way and forge a relationship that powers the narrative.

When Suburu and Yohannes learned about the Biotechnology Innovation Grant opportunity, they knew it could be a serendipitous moment for them and the right researcher. They began the search for researchers at Wake Forest Baptist who would be good candidates for the grant.

“We identified a few researchers who had interesting early-stage technologies that fit the requirements and approached them about applying for the grant,” says Suburu.

Both Gmeiner and Wadas had research projects that met these requirements.

The grant application process involved writing both a technical and a commercial narrative. Yohannes and Suburu helped the faculty researchers by preparing the commercial narratives and assisting with the technical narratives.

“We leveraged our partnership with Pappas Capital to assemble commercialization teams for each of the applications, which included identifying external experts who could provide specific and unique expertise for each technology,” says Suburu. “Those external experts were extremely important to the success of the grant applications.”

When the grant administrators review applications, they look for projects advised by a group of people that includes an expert outside the institution. The Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization could find those experts.

“Working with Janel and the team at Wake Forest Innovations gave my application the commercial perspective it needed to win this grant,” Wadas says. “I would have never had the time with my faculty and research load to get the application together without their help and expertise.”

The Happy Ending

With the grant funds, Gmeiner and Wadas are performing validation studies and accumulating the data they need to determine the commercial feasibility of their early-stage technologies. But the story doesn’t end here

The data milestones—laid out in the technical narrative part of the grant application—mirror the initial steps in the commercialization pathway for technologies developed and licensed through Wake Forest Innovations.

While the technical validation occurs, Wake Forest Innovations continues to support commercialization activities for Gmeiner and Wadas. The Center’s team is validating the unmet needs that drive these new technologies by reaching out to end users, determining the best path to commercialization for the technologies, identifying the best licensees for the products and protecting the intellectual property through the patent process.

“This grant really is a seed for the commercial pathway of this technology,” says Suburu. “Researchers can use the funds to validate the technology and the clinical unmet need, and these are both important steps toward being able to license the technology.”

If the technologies are validated, Suburu, Yohannes and others from Wake Forest Innovations can help Gmeiner and Wadas secure further funding that helps achieve milestones and produce commercial successes that help improve health for patients.

To learn more about the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization at Wake Forest Innovations, contact us by calling +1.336.713.1111 or emailing innovations@wakehealth.edu.