U-M physician-researcher Sofia Merajver takes top prize at shark-tank style event

May 21, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Accolades and Milestones

Sofia Merajver, M.D., Ph.D., took top prize at a recent Shark Tank-style event.

A new drug in development using a dual inhibitor technology for Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), the only subset of breast cancers that doesn’t have an FDA-approved targeted therapy, was chosen by a panel of investors as the winning project at Fast Forward Medical Innovation’s 2018 Biomedical Innovation Cup on May 16. The annual pitch was held in conjunction with the premier venture event, the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium.

 The mechanistically novel dual c-Strc/p38 kinase inhibitor that has been shown in disease models to slow the progression of TNBC took the top prize at the standing-room only event. It beat out other innovation projects from a group of life science clinicians and researchers whose projects were a part of the U-M Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) for Life Sciences Innovation Hub, supported in part by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

Developed by Sofia Merajver, M.D., Ph.D., U-M researcher and scientific director of the U-M Breast Oncology Program, and Matthew Soellner, Ph.D., both from the Department of Internal Medicine – Hematology/Oncology, the dual inhibitor alters the cellular localization of c-Strc/p38 kinase and decreases the accessibility of their regulatory domains, which prevents interaction with other important signaling proteins. In addition to treating TNBC, the therapy has the potential to treat other tumor types, such as aggressive pancreatic cancers and some sarcomas.

“The Biomedical Innovation Cup has been such a great opportunity to help perfect our pitch,” Merajver said. “We were able to gain valuable feedback and our team and business strategy are stronger because of our work preparing for this event. It also put us in touch with many knowledgeable and energetic entrepreneurs and investors with whom we are following up.”

Early-stage investor “sharks” at this year’s event included representatives from Rivervest Ventures, Grand Angels Fund II, and Trout Creek Ventures, in addition to Bloom Burton & Co. from Toronto, and Tappan Hill Ventures and EDF Ventures based in Ann Arbor.

MTRAC for Life Sciences Innovation Hub, managed by FFMI, is a statewide program that supports translational research projects in life sciences — including medical devices, diagnostics, therapeutics, and health-related information technology — with high commercial potential. The $4.05 million statewide program is supported by the MEDC.

“There’s a level of unprecedented momentum and energy around the biomedical and healthcare innovation community in Michigan,” said Sandra Cochrane, assistant dean, director of the WMed Innovation Center, and the event’s guest emcee. “The FFMI Biomedical Innovation Cup event shows what’s possible with great support of innovative ideas, strong collaboration between public and private sectors, and what lies ahead for our region and state.”

FFMI, a unit of the Office of Research at the U-M Medical School, offers resources and support to world-class biomedical researchers at the university and across the state. It provides groundbreaking funding programs, dynamic educational offerings, and deep industry connections that help biomedical researchers navigate the road to successful innovation and commercialization, with the ultimate goal of positively impacting human health. For more information about FFMI, please visit innovation.medicine.umich.edu.