New awards to spur innovation, commercialization in life sciences research

Funding from Washington Research Foundation continues longstanding collaboration with Fred Hutch
photo in a laboratory showing Dr. Taran Gujral looking over the shoulder of Thomas Bello at a computer screen
Dr. Taran Gujral (standing) and postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Thomas Bello discuss their research in July 2019. Gujral is the first recipient of funding from a new collaborative funding program created by Fred Hutch and the Washington Research Foundation to spur life science and technology research. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Washington Research Foundation, or WRF, have announced a new collaborative funding program designed to spur innovative life science and technology research at the Hutch and speed the process of commercialization toward patient impact. 

WRF’s renewable commitment of $750,000 will fund at least two Phase 2 Technology Development Awards of approximately $250,000 each to Fred Hutch scientists and at least five pilot Phase 1 Technology Development Awards of approximately $50,000 each over the next 18 months. Proposals will be evaluated on their significance, novelty, commercial potential, and how quickly they will reach the market.

“WRF is a leading philanthropic partner in Washington state and shares our vision of advancing early stage research including translational medicine, improving patient care, and elevating our region,” said Fred Hutch’s vice president of Philanthropy, Kelly O’Brien. “We've collaborated successfully with WRF for years, and we’re excited to work even more closely with their team to identify projects ready to move from bench to the bedside and have an impact on patients.”

WRF Managing Director Will Canestaro said the foundation looks forward to continuing its support of Fred Hutch research.

“WRF has had a long and successful history of working with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which is one of the premier life science research institutions in the country,” Canestaro said. “This gift formalizes and scales our commitment so that we can continue to support the best researchers here in Washington. There is tremendous promise in the research happening at the Hutch, and we are excited to continue supporting the investigators who make it all possible.”

The first award of $50,000 will support Dr. Taran Gujral’s research on a novel approach for identifying therapeutics for people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF. Current treatments for the progressive lung disease cannot stymie its progression and have significant side effects. Using an artificial intelligence-based drug screening approach they developed, the Gujral Lab recreated the complex waves of signals in cells involved in IPF and identified an already-approved, off-patent cancer drug that could disrupt disease progression with fewer side effects.

With funding from the WRF, Gujral will partner with lung fibrosis experts to validate this drug, called Cpd1, as a potential therapeutic and build the case for moving it into clinical trials. The team’s study will also demonstrate the power of Gujral’s AI-based screening platform to rapidly identify treatments that could uniquely target signaling molecules involved in various diseases.

“This effort to move new treatments closer to the clinic exemplifies the type of research that we are excited to support,” said Canestaro. “We are looking forward to working with the team as their research continues to mature.”

Hilary Hehman, the Hutch’s associate vice president of strategic partnerships and alliances, noted that in addition to funding, WRF is offering award recipients their expertise in technology development and commercialization.

“Fred Hutch is fantastic as an innovative research center, creating early-stage science poised for development,” she said. “But as an academic nonprofit, we don't have capabilities or the infrastructure to take new technologies to scale. WRF is a critical collaborator in accelerating the translation of our discoveries to the people who need them most. Their expertise will be a huge resource for the faculty.”

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Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

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