Three teams of Dartmouth researchers have been selected to receive the first awards from the Dartmouth Innovations Accelerator for Cancer.
A philanthropy-funded initiative, the Accelerator was launched in 2020 by Norris Cotton Cancer Center and the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship(link is external) to bring new cancer treatments to patients more quickly. So far, it has raised $3.3 million in philanthropic gifts and seeks to hit $5 million by June.
“When you look at the number of biotech start-ups that have spun out of our cancer center, it’s astounding,” says Steven Leach(link is external), director of Dartmouth’s and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and the Preston T. and Virginia R. Kelsey Chair in Cancer at the Geisel School of Medicine(link is external). “The Accelerator builds on our culture of collaboration and innovation. In its first year, it has attracted 17 teams, including 41 faculty and students, all eager to turn discoveries into life-changing treatments for cancer patients.”
This year’s winning teams were selected by an external review panel of successful biomedical entrepreneurs and investors. Teams of faculty and students from across Dartmouth competed in two days of pitches in early April—with strong representation from Geisel, Thayer School of Engineering(link is external), the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies(link is external), and Arts and Sciences. The awards of $300,000, $100,000, and $50,000 will be used by the winning teams to fund critical next steps(link is external) in the development of high-potential cancer treatments. Those steps are aimed at making their innovations ready for private industry investment and more likely to advance to clinical trials.
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“It’s an honor to support and nurture Dartmouth-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem dedicated to overcoming cancer,” says Errik Anderson ’00, Thayer ’06, Tuck ’07, who recently made a leadership gift to the Accelerator and serves on its external review panel. Anderson is CEO and founder of Alloy Therapeutics, founder and managing partner of Ulysses Diversified Holdings, and co-founder of multiple other biotech companies.
Last September, five Dartmouth alumni helped launch the Accelerator with their personal philanthropy, totaling $1.4 million. Since then, five more alumni, parents, and friends of Dartmouth, including Anderson, have made gifts, bringing the total to $3.3 million. Other recent donors to the Accelerator include Paul Biondi ’92 and John Collins ’90.
“With greater philanthropic support, the Accelerator will enable more Dartmouth faculty and students to advance their innovations for the benefit of cancer patients everywhere,” says Jamie Coughlin, director of the Magnuson Center. “That is the power of philanthropy and the Dartmouth entrepreneurial community.”
Although only three teams won monetary awards, all participated in a 10-week course in which they learned about biomedical entrepreneurship and regulatory requirements and had to create step-by-step, multiyear plans for the development of their innovations. The course instructors hailed from Simbex and Celdara Medical, two local biomedical companies.
“I wish I had taken a course like this 10 years ago,” says Arti Gaur, an assistant professor of neurology, who already had some experience as an entrepreneur before joining the Accelerator. (Read more about Gaur and her Fearless Pursuit(link is external).) “I have seen my approach and thought process evolve as a result of the Accelerator, to think in a more systematic, comprehensive way about bringing a new therapy or technology to patients.”
Gaur and two graduate students from her lab, Jordan Isaacs, Guarini ’24, and Divya Ravi, Guarini ’24, won the $300 thousand award for their project on a new potential therapy for high-grade gliomas, a kind of brain tumor for which the median survival is only 14 months. The award will help fund a critical next step on the journey to clinical trials: large-scale pharmacology studies by an independent commercial lab.
“For three and half years, I have pieced together funding for this project,” says Gaur. “This award will help us get to the next phase, where we can potentially attract the big money that will be needed for clinical trials.”
Staffed by the Magnuson Center, the Technology Transfer Office, and graduate and undergraduate student interns, the Accelerator has also helped several teams generate new invention disclosures and patents, meet with venture capital groups, initiate discussions with private companies, and establish connections with successful biomedical entrepreneurs and investors.
The next cohort of Accelerator teams will be selected in fall 2021 and will compete for the second annual awards in spring 2022. Learn more about the program at the Accelerator website(link is external).