A new University of Utah initiative aims to speed the process of bringing lifesaving medical discoveries made in UofU laboratories to new drugs and therapies for patients.

The University of Utah Therapeutics Accelerator Hub, also known as U2TAH or the Accelerator, will provide resources and expertise to researchers to support the process of translating research discoveries into innovative clinical applications.

The Accelerator is the result of a partnership among the university’s Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), College of Pharmacy and the Partners for Innovation, Ventures, Outreach & Technology (PIVOT) Center. It will be operated by the PIVOT Center, providing the resources needed to develop university-based therapeutic technologies and bring them into the clinic.

“Utah is a world leader in medical research discoveries that make a major difference in the lives of patients,” said Mary Beckerle, CEO of HCI. “Utah has incredible assets in terms of scientific expertise and a commitment to improving human health. With this new Accelerator, we will advance progress in the translation of scientific discoveries into lifesaving medical treatments.”

The Accelerator seeks to remove hurdles that often hinder the process of translating laboratory discoveries into new drugs for patients. Federal government and private industry research often supports discovery research done in a lab and clinical research that tests whether new medicines effectively treat patients. However, between the discovery research and clinical research phases, a process called preclinical development must occur, wherein drug candidates are refined and tested for safety.

Relatively little funding exists to support the process of preclinical development, so at many universities, promising new drug candidates languish after discovery and are never advanced to human testing. The Accelerator will work to provide the vital preclinical development expertise to help bridge the gap between laboratory discoveries and clinical research.

The Accelerator will start with a $22.5 million investment from HCI and the College of Pharmacy. The Accelerator will link UofU scientists with internal and external resources and expertise to assist their work in order to speed the process of bringing new lifesaving drugs to patients. The PIVOT Center will manage the process of bringing new discoveries to market through partnerships, licensing, start-up companies and other strategic efforts.

Although cancer treatments are expected to be of great interest to the Accelerator, all disease areas are eligible for support through this endeavor.

“Utah has an impressive tradition of innovation and fundamental discovery in biomedical research,” said Randall Peterson, dean of the College of Pharmacy. “The establishment of U2TAH will ensure that more of these innovative discoveries receive the attention and resources needed to transform them into lifesaving medicines.”

The Accelerator will begin its work immediately.

David Bearss will lead the Accelerator as senior managing director, and an external advisory board led by industry experts will be established in the coming weeks.

During his career, Bearss has managed research teams to bring 16 new drugs to clinical-stage testing, several of which went on to become approved drugs. Bearss has held multiple roles in pharmaceutical development, including as co-founder and CEO of Tolero Pharmaceuticals and SuperGen, and as chief scientific officer and global head of research of Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma Oncology.

Bearss previously served as co-director of the Center for Investigational Therapeutics at HCI, associate professor of oncological sciences at the University of Utah, and associate professor of physiology and developmental biology at Brigham Young University. Bearss has more than 50 patents issued or pending.

“The commitment to establish and invest in the Accelerator demonstrates how the U is building on its legacy of therapeutic discovery and research to focus on driving translational medical breakthroughs,” said Andrew Weyrich, vice president for research at the UofU. “Through these efforts, the U is making a deep cross-campus commitment to bridge discoveries into life-changing treatments for patients.”

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