Two College of Engineering Faculty Members Receive Manning/IALS Innovation Awards
The Manning Innovation Program, based in UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), provides grants to promote research and development in the sciences and engineering through the creation of start-up companies. The program is funded by Paul Manning ‘77 and his wife Diane L. Manning, who have committed a total of $4 million to the program with the aim of enabling innovative UMass researchers to not only solve urgent problems, but also commercialize and share those solutions.
This year, two faculty members from the College of Engineering have received Manning/IALS Innovation Awards, worth up to $100,000 each.
Neil Forbes, professor of chemical engineering, has received a Manning/IALS Innovation Award for his startup Ernest Pharmaceuticals, which he co-founded with Nele Van Dessel—who was a post-doctoral researcher in the Forbes lab at UMass Amherst—and Vishnu Raman—who earned a PhD in Chemical Engineering from UMass Amherst and is a former graduate student of Forbes.
Ernest Pharmaceuticals seeks to create a novel bacterial platform that revolutionizes cancer treatment, specifically through innovations in intracellular macromolecule delivery. Therapeutic bacteria have unique properties that allow them to treat metastatic disease and inoperable tumors—these bacteria are motile and actively penetrate tumor tissue, whereas chemotherapeutic molecules only poorly penetrate tissue, leaving leaves large regions untreated. Learn more about this promising research.
Ernest Pharmaceuticals is focusing on tumors with low survival rates, such as liver, pancreas, ovarian and metastatic breast cancer. For these patients, very few therapeutic possibilities exist that greatly improve overall survival time. Bacterial cancer therapies have the potential to change these high mortality rates.
Ernest Pharmaceuticals plans to seek FDA approval in an effort to start clinical trials within a few years.
Govind Srimathveeravalli, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, has received a Manning/IALS Innovation Award for his startup TBD Medical, which centers on his pioneering prostate cancer diagnostic technology.
Srimathveeravalli’s technology generates a “liquid sample,” which allows for a greater sampling of potentially malignant tissue than the standard needle biopsy. This first-of-its-kind, minimally invasive device improves prostate cancer diagnosis among the growing population of men who will experience the disease. He is currently at work on refining this technology, with the goal of making it suitable for use in office-based clinic settings with minimal sedation requirements.
In addition to this Manning/IALS Innovation Award, Srimathveeravalli recently received an Acorn Innovation Grant Award from MassVentures; as part of that award, he is collaborating with Dr. Stephen Solomon, MD, of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to translate his groundbreaking diagnostic technique to patients. He is also the recipient of a 2023 award from the Technology Development Fund, which provides seed funding to UMass Amherst researchers to commercialize their scientific breakthroughs.
Manning/IALS awardees are identified by a rigorous selection process that brings together on-campus and off-campus industry and institutional investor expert reviewers with science, engineering, public health and health sciences, nursing and data/computer science expertise. The IALS Executive Committee, which includes the chancellor, vice chancellor for research & engagement, the provost, the IALS director and five STEM deans, also contributes to the selection process.
“We are encouraged by the progress Manning IALS awardees have been able to make with this support,” says Peter Reinhart, founding director of IALS. “While crossing the ‘valley of death’ is not for the faint of heart, we know that Manning/IALS seed funding in concert with other campus programs that support research commercialization are helping UMass startup and technology teams achieve their potential.”