UT Health San Antonio announces inaugural Synergy grant awards for early-stage applied research

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (also called UT Health San Antonio) Office of Technology Commercialization and the Office of the Vice President for Research recently announced the awardees for the inaugural Synergy Gap Fund.

Earlier this year, the Office of Technology Commercialization and the Office of the Vice President for Research launched this new funding initiative. Funding is awarded to promising early-stage applied research that has a high chance of impacting the life sciences, and indirectly patient health care, but without additional funding, would be unlikely.

Synergy will provide funds for ideation prior to intellectual property filing or at an exceedingly early stage in the intellectual property life cycle. Synergy intends to reward intra-institutional collaboration between disciplines at UT Health San Antonio that seek to solve larger scope and complex public health care issues.

Synergy applicants follow a process that includes a letter of intent, a full proposal and an interview with the External Advisory Group (EAG). The EAG 2023 membership includes individuals with experience in venture capital and the life science industries located primarily in the U.S.

Synergy’s aim is to spark and support innovative ideation, promote academic entrepreneurship and bridge the collaborative gap between scientific and clinical disciplines while providing a platform for early engagement by the life science industry ecosystem.

John Gebhard, PhD, assistant vice president in the Office of Technology Commercialization, was the primary architect of Synergy.

“The wealth of life science experience at UT Health San Antonio is vast. However, it can be difficult for faculty, clinicians and staff to find meaningful ways to collaborate to impact patient care,” Gebhard said. “So, it was important that Synergy provide funds to help catalyze the ideation process.”

The four recipients of the inaugural Synergy grant awards and a quote about their projects are as follows:

Kenneth M. Hargreaves, DDS, PhD, professor and chair, Department of Endodontics, School of Dentistry.

Project: Use of specific fatty acids as a non-addictive, non-opioid, pain therapeutics

“The Synergy funds will provide the critical resources to validate our target with new drug formulations to determine optimal efficacy for relief of pain and acceleration of healing.”

Neelam Mukherjee, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Urology, Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine.

Project: Potential novel therapeutic for bladder cancer

“The Synergy funds will significantly contribute to advancing the development of nitration-resistant CCL2 as an innovative and groundbreaking treatment approach for patients suffering from bladder cancer. This novel approach also holds immense promise in revolutionizing the landscape of cancer treatment beyond the bladder cancer field.”

Gang Huang, PhD, professor, Department of Cell Systems and Anatomy, Long School of Medicine.

Project: Immune activation of cell-based therapy to treat cancer

“Funding from the Synergy award supports developing an innovative CAR-T immunotherapy that activates NK cells to treat hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which is highly prevalent in South Texas. This project is a collaboration between Drs. Huang and Sun labs. We aim to obtain preclinical laboratory results and move forward to clinical trials, solving the unmet need for HCC treatment regionally and internationally.”

Maria Gaczynska, PhD, associate professor, Department of Molecular Medicine, Long School of Medicine.

Project: Potential therapeutic for use in traumatic brain injury and beyond

“We developed compounds that regulate and boost the performance of proteasome, the enzyme performing critical intracellular cleaning services, which are compromised in brain neurons during neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or the aftermath of traumatic brain injury. Our compounds ameliorate deleterious effects of Alzheimer’s disease-related neurodegeneration in animal models (Science Advances, 8/23/22). Thanks to the Synergy award, a collaborative team of proteasome (Maria Gaczynska, PhD and Pawel Osmulski, PhD) and neurodegeneration (James Lechleiter, PhD) experts will use the mouse model of traumatic brain injury to test how our compounds could help to ease the effects of this devastating and incurable condition affecting millions of Americans of all ages.”

To learn more about Synergy, visit our website at https://otc.uthscsa.edu/synergy/.

2023 Statistics

  • 16 Letters of intent (LOI) received.
  • 14 of 16 LOI moved to the full proposal stage.
  • 14 full proposals reviewed by the external advisory group.
  • 7 full proposals invited to finalist interview.
  • 4 of the 7 full proposals awarded the full award of $75,000.

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