AUSTIN, Texas — A new University of Texas at Austin initiative will utilize top experts from throughout the region and country to ensure that the campus’s best health-focused research is transformed into new drugs, devices and health products that will directly benefit patients, health care providers and the public.
Texas Health Catalyst will help crystalize connections between UT Austin and the Central Texas life sciences and health industry, spurring new companies and initiatives that will fuel the region’s economy and improve the community’s health. It also represents a unique collaboration among schools and colleges on the UT campus that can serve as a model in the future.
“Through Texas Health Catalyst, every part of our campus can work with industry to help people get healthy and stay healthy,” said UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves. “This shows the power of building a future-focused medical school on the strong foundation of UT Austin.”
Texas Health Catalyst will help researchers bridge the “Valley of Death” for health innovations in academia — the gap between an academic research discovery and commercialization that delivers it to the public as a health product. This gap too often leaves excellent research undeveloped, which represents a loss for the university, patients, the Austin-area economy and society.
The Dell Medical School at UT Austin is launching the program in collaboration with UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Office of Technology Commercialization.
It will connect UT Austin researchers with local and national leaders in industry, academia and the entrepreneurial community — experts with real-world experience in product development and commercialization who have volunteered to serve on the Texas Health Catalyst Advisory Panel and guide selected researchers. This founding advisory panel draws from the life sciences and health technologies in Austin and nationally from such areas as biotech, pharmaceuticals, intellectual property and regulatory issues.
All UT Austin faculty members are eligible to apply for the Texas Health Catalyst program. Advisory panel members will work to advance that research, in some cases consulting directly with finalists who will compete for funding of up to $100,000 from the program. A maximum of $300,000 will be awarded in this first funding cycle.
The inaugural pilot funding cycle is supported by the Dell Medical School and the Provost’s Office at UT Austin.
The Dell Medical School is the first medical school in nearly 50 years to be built from the ground up on the campus of an Association of American Universities research university. The medical school plans to welcome its first students in the summer of 2016.
“The program is a significant step in exposing the best that UT has to offer to Austin’s burgeoning life sciences industry, so that together they might multiplicatively drive each other’s growth,” said Mini Kahlon, the school’s vice dean of strategy and partnerships.
“Beyond funding support, what really sets this program apart is connecting industry experts with research scientists who don’t have experience understanding how to vet the potential of research and the most efficient steps for preclinical development. Our advisory panel brings expertise and experience navigating the complex process of bringing products to market, along with considerable clinical expertise.”
Texas Health Catalyst is modeled after a similar effort at the University of California, San Francisco, where dozens of researchers have benefited from the program.
“As we developed nanotechnologies for health, we didn’t fully appreciate the guidance necessary to move forward effectively,” said Tejal Desai, a professor of bioengineering at UCSF who has been through the program. “Our team received critical expertise right when we needed it. For instance, in developing our drug delivery technology, we were introduced to key strategic partners who helped us ‘de-risk’ our technology.”