UMass Students Win $45,000 for Company That Would Develop Cancer Drug Delivery Technology

AMHERST, Mass. – An interdisciplinary team of graduate students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has won $45,000 for their proposal for a new company that would develop drug delivery platforms for targeting cancer and making chemotherapy more effective.

The competition for the best entrepreneurial technology business plan developed by students on campus was part of the Technology Innovation Challenge (TIC), which promotes innovation education based on technology conceived by faculty, students and alumni of UMass Amherst. Teams are composed of students and consulting faculty members who are experts in technology. The goal is for each team to conceptualize a product with regard to its scientific and technological design, and then create a business plan for the product’s commercialization.

The competition’s primary financial sponsor is Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, a Boston-based law firm specializing in intellectual property. Other competition sponsors include UMass Amherst alumni Eric Janszen, Takis Sparaggis, Steve Collins and Scott Perry. Additional support has come from Long River Ventures of Hadley, Forge Partners LLC, and Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg.

“The future of business education is in collaboration with engineering and science to bring innovative ideas to the market more quickly,” says Thomas O’Brien, dean of the Isenberg School of Management. “The Technology Innovation Challenge is a wonderful incubator for students and entrepreneurs. It encourages the best kind of competition and learning.”

The new company, proposed by the winning three-person team of students from the College of Engineering and the Isenberg School, is called Pharma Solutus and would develop polymeric nanotechnology drug delivery platforms for targeting cancer and making chemotherapy more effective.

“Pharma Solutus is a new company established to improve chemotherapy and ultimately the quality of life for cancer patients through novel drug delivery nanotechnology,” reads the winning proposal. “The main advantage of our technology is in the ability to concentrate drugs at the tumor site, thereby reducing side effects, and the ability to control and sustain the release of the anticancer drug.”

The winners received $20,000 in cash and will be given an additional $25,000 in stages, provided they advance their business plan to create a corporation and file for patents.

The Pharma Solutus team members include two chemical engineering doctoral candidates; Sarvesh Agrawal and Bing Mei, and Lindsay Devin, an MBA candidate in the Isenberg School. The winning team’s faculty advisors are Surita Bhatia of chemical engineering and Gregory Tew of polymer science and engineering.

“We are thrilled about winning the Technology Innovation Challenge,” says Bing on behalf of the team. “The award money will give us a running start to making Pharma Solutus a reality, but even more valuable is the confidence and advice we gained through the competition. We intend to use the money to start laboratory testing and to attend conferences in order to learn more about the current technologies and increase our network.”

Pharma Solutus won the challenge in a stiff competition with three other UMass Amherst teams: Team HydroMatrix, composed of Erik Miller, Greg Rolland and Naomi Sanabria-DeLong; Team BASEC Technologies, composed of Bree Carlson, Christopher Campbell and Ashish Sahu: and Team Smart Cane, composed of Raymond Frenkel and Heather Manneheim.

The Technology Innovation Challenge was the brainchild of Michael F. Malone, dean of the College of Engineering, and Soren Bisgaard, the Eugene M. Isenberg Professor of Technology Management, who established the Challenge last year. It also included a separate competition last fall for a $5,000 prize, which was won by Team HydroMatrix.

“It’s a great educational tool,” says Malone, who is also the Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor of Engineering. “Innovation is an area where learning by doing is more effective.” Malone adds that, because it is limited to technology-based businesses, the competition encourages science and engineering students to think of commercial applications of their work.

“The competition is one among many initiatives in a campus-wide strategy to develop technological innovation and to bring that intellectual property to the private sector,” notes Bisgaard. “We’re also promoting innovation and development through interdisciplinary classes and research and through the Pioneer Valley Technology Innovation Development Exchange, which brings together education, business, government and non-profit organizations in promoting innovation as a key element of technology-based economic and workforce development. We also hold periodic innovation round tables that bring together entrepreneurs, legal experts, consultants, and other private sector players. In all of this, the competition provides an incentive for the students to work on marketable, new ideas and gives our efforts and overall strategy added visibility.”