Creating Start-up Companies around NCI Inventions

By Karen Surabian, Thomas Stackhouse, and Rose Freel, Contributing Writers, and Rosemarie Truman, Guest Writer
Driving Innovation in Breast Cancer (Breast Cancer Startup Challenge) graphic.

By Karen Surabian, Thomas Stackhouse, and Rose Freel, Contributing Writers, and Rosemarie Truman, Guest Writer

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), led by the Technology Transfer Center (TTC),  the Avon Foundation, and The Center for Advancing Innovation have partnered to create a “first-of-a-kind” Breast Cancer Start-up Challenge.

The Challenge features 10 breast cancer inventions (nine from NCI and one from the Avon Foundation) that have commercial viability and are important to public health (see below). The primary goal of the Challenge is to stimulate the creation of start-up businesses based on these inventions.   

Team Members Represent Wide Range of Experience

A global effort, the Challenge comprises teams made up of university students, postdocs, and medical residents; seasoned entrepreneurs; and collaborators, mentors, and advisers.  Each team will create a business plan using the invention as the basis for a potential start-up company.

Forty-six teams are participating, with members from 48 universities in Canada, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States.  

The Challenge will be completed in three phases:

  1. Letter of Intent (this phase is now complete): Teams provide information regarding the members of their team and indicate how team members meet eligibility requirements. Teams also outline their intent to participate in the Challenge.
  2. Business Plan: Teams develop a 10-page business plan or business model canvas; a five-minute “live” pitch; and a one-minute elevator speech via recorded video.
  3. Start-up: Teams incorporate their start-up and apply for seed funding.

Winners of the Business Plan phase will be announced in February 2014, and the successful start-ups will be announced in the summer of 2014.

NCI Inventions and Inventors Breast Cancer Start-up Challenge

  • Cancer Immunotherapy Using Oligonucleotides Conjugated to Apoptotic Tumor Cells, Dennis Klinman and Hidekazu Shirota (NCI at Frederick)
  • Potent, Easy-to-Use, Targeted Toxins for Anti-tumor Agents, Nadya Tarasova et al. (NCI at Frederick)
  • Virus-Like Particles as a Platform for Efficient Delivery of Proteins and RNA, Stan Kaczmarczyk and Deb Chatterjee (NCI at Frederick)
  • Breast Cancer Diagnostic Based on Spatial Organization of Genes in the Cell Nucleus, Tom Misteli and Karen Meaburn
  • Human Monoclonal Antibody Targeted to Mesothelin for the Treatment of Cancer, Mitchell Ho, et al.
  • Use of 15 kDa Granulysin as an Adjuvant through Activation of Dendritic Cells, Alan Krensky and Carol Clayberger
  • Prediction of Breast Cancer Survival Using Expression Levels of Six Genes, Steven Libutti and Mei He
  • Ratio-Based Biomarkers for the Prediction of Cancer Survival, Stephen Hewitt and Joon-Yung Chung
  • Biomarker for the Prediction of Taxane-Based Chemotherapy Outcome, Sherry Yang and Sandra Swain

Highlights of the Challenge

  • Of the nine NCI inventions included in the Challenge, three are from NCI at Frederick labs.
  • The teams are made up of an average of nine members, representing legal, medical/scientific, and business fields, as well as a seasoned entrepreneur on each team.
  • On average, there are two universities represented on each team.
  • A confidential disclosure agreement was drafted by TTC, and 431 individual agreements have been signed.

Media outlets, including CBS News, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), and the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC), as well as White House officials, have announced the Challenge.

Although the Challenge is no longer accepting new teams, you can support the effort by spreading the word and following the Challenge on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.  For more information, including a complete description of the inventions, teams, and participating universities, visit:

Rosemarie Truman is founder and chief executive officer of The Center for Advancing Innovation, Inc.

If You Are Not Sure, Ask

If you have any questions or are not sure which agreement is appropriate for your research situation, contact the NCI Technology Transfer Center office: 

Telephone: 301-845-5465


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