aerial view of University of Utah campus

Accelerating therapeutic discoveries

This piece was originally published on Good Notes.

Many medical researchers have one goal in mind: to come up with new drugs or therapies that will help people live longer, healthier lives. The possibility of finding a drug, a therapy or another treatment that could really make a difference is what drives these University of Utah researchers to get up every morning. The process of discovery, from inception to the actual use in the clinic, can be a long, difficult, but extremely rewarding journey.

Breakthrough discoveries

Many promising therapeutic discoveries are not able to reach their full potential in academic labs that lack the resources and know-how to translate their discoveries into life-saving treatments for patients. The University of Utah Therapeutic Accelerator Hub (U2TAH) is designed to provide the support and expertise needed to “accelerate” the process of getting new discoveries into the clinic, on the market, and ultimately, to the people who will benefit from them.

We developed the concept for a therapeutic accelerator with founding partners Mary Beckerle, Ph.D., CEO of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), and Keith Marmer, DPT, MBA, chief innovation and engagement officer. In October 2020, we launched the Therapeutic Accelerator Hub. Together, HCI and the University of Utah’s College of Pharmacy are funding the start-up of the Accelerator with a $22.5 million initial investment.

Best of academics and industry

While universities excel at making new scientific discoveries, the expertise for turning new discoveries into clinically approved therapies often resides in industry. The Therapeutic Accelerator brings outstanding industry expertise to the university, helping investigators transition their discoveries to the clinic and connecting them with the necessary resources.

Accelerator resources are available to researchers and anyone in the university community that is developing therapeutics for any disease. To date, the Accelerator has engaged more than 200 researchers and reviewed more than 70 therapeutic discoveries. While nearly half of these are for cancer, we are also seeing new discoveries in Alzheimer’s, heart disease, neurological disorders, immunology and rare diseases.

The Accelerator taps into the expertise of an outside advisory board made up of medical and industry experts who closely review the discoveries for potential engagement and help determine the value these discoveries bring to health care. Detailed reports are given to each researcher who has engaged the Accelerator. We want to benefit all researchers by giving them feedback that will help improve and drive their research.

Internal investment

Many universities turn to external investors to fund the preclinical development of their therapeutic discoveries. But they often relinquish control over the process, missing out on opportunities to substantially benefit from any successes. U2TAH, on the other hand, is supported entirely with internal funds, allowing the university to retain control of these valuable assets. By investing our own intellectual and financial capital, we expect to accelerate the development of these discoveries and commercialize them when they are at a more advanced stage—increasing their chance of success and improving the financial return to inventors and the university.

Long-term benefits

The Therapeutic Accelerator will help put the University of Utah on the map in terms of drug discovery and development. We anticipate it will help us recruit and retain world-class faculty who want to see their discoveries result in clinically approved therapies for patients.

Ultimately, if our collaborative support of researchers is successful, the Accelerator will become fiscally sustainable with the potential to provide a substantial revenue stream for the university. More importantly, bringing new therapies to patients is one fulfillment of our mission as an academic health system. Bringing new medicines to life is a win, not only for the University of Utah but for people in our community and beyond.