New center to fund ‘most exciting’ biomedical discoveries


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The University of Washington has created a new integrated center to match biomedical discoveries with the resources needed to bring innovative products to the public and improve health.

Medical researchers at the University of Washington are receiving a new boost to get their ideas off the bench and into the public domain.

A new center is being created with $4 million in matching funds from the National Institutes of Health for promising biomedical discoveries. The Washington Entrepreneurial Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (WE-REACH) will provide project funding to fuel four to six biomedical startups a year with up to $200,000 each.

WE-REACH is one of five national commercialization hubs selected for funding by the NIH in 2019.

The next round of grant funding requires a declaration of intent by Feb. 7 and complete submission by May 1. Funding starts July 2020.

“The University of Washington and regional partner institutions produce some of the most exciting biomedical discoveries and technologies in the world, but we always find it challenging to support their product development as they move into the early commercialization phases,” said Rodney Ho, a professor of pharmacy at the UW School of Pharmacy and the new executive director of the WE-REACH center.

Rodney Ho, executive director of WE-REACH.

At a kickoff meeting for the new center on Jan. 31, Ho said life sciences is an area that takes years to develop a product and this center is going to tap into a huge array of help, including a high-level committee with representatives from the U.S. Patent Ofice, the Food and Drug Administration, NIH, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Kaiser Foundation. The group is called The National Reach Technology Advisroy Guidance. Any WE-REACH projects will be sent to this team.

The center will leverage resources with UW School of Medicine partners: the Institute of Translational Health Sciences and the Institute for Protein Design. The center is also partnering with UW CoMotion, the university’s collaborative innovation hub, and the UW School of Pharmacy. And innovators will receive guidance from multiple academic departments and regional institutions. Those institutions include the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children’s and other universities in the five states that make up the WWAMI region.

“I want to see the community come together,” said Ho. “We are here for a passion purpose. No one person can do everything. But we can bring the community together.”

Many times researchers will make a discovery that could help treat or cure certain diseases but do not have the means to bring that treatment to reality.

Ho said the center will support innovation steps not typically supported by research grants, such as human clinical trials and product development.

Tong Sun, executive director of the Institute of Translational Health Sciences, said she is delighted to welcome WE-REACH as a partner. “At ITHS we are committed to accelerating the translation of discoveries to the clinic, so they can help us in our mission to improve health in our communities.”

Fiona Wills, assistant vice president of innovation development at CoMotion, said the new center also builds on the infrastructure CoMotion has developed, including gap funding and training.

WE-REACH will be located in the South Campus Center on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus and at the Institute of Translational Health Sciences, located at UW Medicine’s South Lake Union campus.

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