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UMB Medical Researcher Wins LIFE Prize

Faculty researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and Johns Hopkins University (JHU) were recognized Feb. 18 for their groundbreaking research and its impact on human health with 2014 BioMaryland LIFE (Leading Innovative Faculty Entrepreneurs) awards. Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) Secretary Dominick Murray and BioMaryland Center Executive Director Judy Britz, PhD, presented the awards to Eduardo Davila, PhD of UMB for his T-cell based universal immunotherapy platform to fight cancer, and to Jonathan Powell, MD, PhD, of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at JHU to further develop a new therapeutic agent for type II diabetes.

Photo: DBED Sec. Dominick Murray (l), Eduardo Davila, PhD (c), and BioMaryland Center's Judy Britz, PhD (r)

First awarded in 2010, the LIFE prizes are two $50,000 grants funded by the BioMaryland Center along with the two universities to help advance research in biotech and biopharma, medical devices, or diagnostics that has the greatest potential for commercial application. "We are proud to work with our partners at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland to create a pipeline of support and assistance that takes the groundbreaking research being done at our world-class universities from the bench to the bedside," said Murray. "I want to salute all of today's faculty presenters for the important role they play in keeping our state on the cutting edge of innovation and discovery."

"This was once again an outstanding showcase for innovative technologies at both institutions," said Phil Robilotto, DO, MBA, assistant vice president, UMB Office of Technology Transfer. "The LIFE award has been a real stimulus for technology development and startup formation at UMB and we are excited about the prospects for this year 's winner, Dr. Eduardo Davila, and his important AT-CAR oncology platform."

Eduardo Davila, PhD was honored as the winner of the 2014 LIFE Prize for UMB, and he plans to use the $50K prize to fund a key animal study to further confirm the flexibility of the Anti-Tag Chimeric Antigen Receptor (AT-CAR) system to prevent tumor recurrence. His work was also recently funded by a TEDCO Maryland Innovation Initiative Award. Davila is an associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, and the program leader for the tumor immunology and immunotherapy program at UMB's Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. His research group devised AT-CAR, a breakthrough improvement in immunotherapy against cancer.

The field of cancer therapy has witnessed an explosion of interest in targeted immunotherapies, including antibody-based and immune cell-based therapies. However, there is a growing need to 'personalize' therapies in order to improve patient responses. The AT-CAR system is a universal immunotherapy platform that can be readily adapted to patient needs and variable tumor responses to treatment. A 2012 publication by Dr. Davila's group demonstrated that AT-CAR therapy can be directed against established tumors in animal models of breast, pancreas, colon tumors, as well as B-cell lymphomas. In addition, unlike another immune cell-based therapy currently in clinical trials, the AT-CAR system has the potential to be safer for patients, because there's a mechanism to modify the AT-CAR immune response if a patient should develop complications.

The LIFE prize was awarded as part of a daylong joint meeting of the Johns Hopkins Alliance for Science and Technology Development and the University of Maryland, Baltimore Commercial Advisory Board. It was attended by more than 150 venture capitalists, seasoned biotech entrepreneurs, and business development executives from the biopharma industry. Judging committees evaluated presentations from more than 30 university researchers before selecting the two winners.

In 2013, the BioMaryland LIFE prizes were awarded to the University of Maryland School of Dentistry's Mark Shirtliff, PhD. Shirtliff is using the funding to further develop a protective vaccine against staph aureus. The 2012 LIFE Award winner was the University of Maryland School of Medicine's James Gammie, MD, whose mitral valve repair technology was recently licensed to UMB startup Harpoon Medical.

About the BioMaryland Center: The BioMaryland Center is an office within the state's Department of Business and Economic Development that connects life sciences companies, and academic and federal researchers with each other and with potential capital sources, partners, clients and other resources. Center staff provide information regarding funding and other resources, business plan feedback, access to market research, advocacy, and other industry support. The BioMaryland Center also promotes the state's life sciences industry domestically and abroad. For more information, visit www.Bio.Maryland.gov.

About DBED: The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development stimulates private investment and creates jobs by attracting new businesses, encouraging the expansion and retention of existing companies, and providing workforce training and financial assistance to Maryland companies. The department promotes the state's many economic advantages and markets local products and services at home and abroad to spur economic development and international investment, and trade and tourism. Because they are major economic generators, the department also supports the arts, film production, sports, and other special events. For more information, visit www.choosemaryland.org.
Posting Date: 02/21/2014
Contact Name: Linda Cassard
Contact Phone: 410-706-5036
Contact Email: lcassard@umaryland.edu