FRANKFORT, Ky. — An elite $4 million grant received by the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Commonwealth Commercialization Center (C3) and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development demonstrates the power of partnership while paving the way to bring dozens of new med-tech and health-related companies to life across the state in the coming years.
The four-year Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (REACH) grant from the National Institutes of Health will help fund a public-private consortium, the Kentucky Network for Innovation & Commercialization – KYNETIC. The new organization will use NIH funding to advance the most promising biomedical research innovations from the state’s eight public universities and the Kentucky Community & Technical College System. Ultimately, its goal is to create startups that commercialize the technologies for public benefit.
KYNETIC, whose founding members will contribute a $2.56 million direct-cost match, will also provide guidance and technical resources to advance the technologies toward commercialization. Additionally, KYNETIC will assist in scaling the resulting startups to help tackle some of the biggest health challenges facing the US population, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
“Kentucky’s ability to win this grant — one of only a handful ever awarded nationwide — was made possible in large part because of the unprecedented collaboration between our economic development cabinet, public universities and technical colleges in creating our non-profit commercialization center, C3,” Gov. Matt Bevin said. “This grant further validates the significance of C3’s public-private structure and our decision to revitalize Kentucky’s innovation and entrepreneurial support system. Together, we can have a truly positive impact on the health of Kentuckians and people around the world.”
Innovations that KYNETIC will help bring to market may be new pharmaceuticals, therapies, devices and other health-related technologies. Those products could directly intervene in disease processes and conditions individuals suffer or they may address health disparities – such as lack of healthcare access in rural areas or populations suffering disproportionate rates of disease and premature death.
“This grant will bolster our efforts to expand what’s possible in accelerating commercialization and caring for the public’s health,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “Increasingly, we find that achieving our ambitions requires strong and enduring partnerships. We are deeply grateful for this collaboration with our sister institutions in higher education, the Commonwealth Commercialization Center and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. This grant provides another critical opportunity to build upon our considerable research strength in healthcare-related innovations and technology.”
As resulting startups move into clinical trials phases, many will rely on the strength of Kentucky’s public hospitals and healthcare systems.
UofL President Neeli Bendapudi said the expanding resources available through UofL Health will further support health-care research.
“With the acquisition of Jewish Hospital and other KentuckyOne Health properties, researchers at UofL will have additional opportunities to recruit patients for clinical studies to advance research emerging from KYNETIC,” President Bendapudi said. “Projects developed through KYNETIC will have the potential to further existing UofL research efforts in optimal aging, improve access to quality health care in underserved urban and rural regions, and bolster efforts to both attract and retain top faculty and students at UofL.”
Vivek Sarin, the Cabinet’s interim secretary, said Kentucky’s 176 healthcare-related manufacturers, service and technology facilities provide nearly 30,000 private-sector jobs statewide.
“Private-sector healthcare companies are a major economic contributor in Kentucky and a target industry our Cabinet works to grow. We recruit companies globally while supporting growth within our existing facilities and connecting entrepreneurs and early stage companies to key resources,” he said. “By adding new research-derived startups in both rural and urban areas, we will further strengthen Kentucky’s healthcare ecosystem and tax base.”
Brian Mefford, C3 interim CEO and executive director of KY Innovation, the Cabinet’s office for entrepreneurship, said the grant supports KY Innovation’s broader mission to foster creation of high-impact companies across the state.
“C3’s collaborative model is unique in the nation and a primary reason the NIH selected Kentucky’s proposal. This grant bridges a gap for the whole state by providing funding, expertise and a continuum of support for commercializing the most promising research,” Mefford said. “It’s important to recognize the Legislature entrusted C3 with $8 million in public funding and, within a matter of months, we’ve secured millions more to advance its mission. This funding proves the concept that uniting Kentucky’s many resources will facilitate creation of high-growth, high-potential businesses. Combining these efforts with KY Innovation’s regional-hub approach to supporting entrepreneurship allows us to accelerate the growth of Kentucky’s innovation ecosystem.”
Linda Dwoskin, Ph.D., co-principal investigator on the grant and UK professor of pharmaceutical sciences, said KYNETIC will benefit researchers, institutions and communities across Kentucky including underserved communities and populations.
“It is an honor to work with the University of Louisville, C3 and public academic institutions across the state to advance and accelerate innovative ideas that could lead to new products and technologies,” Dr. Dwoskin said. “Throughout the state we have untapped resources of inventive and entrepreneurial individuals and groups whom we hope to provide opportunities that will aid in transforming ideas and discoveries to tangible health benefits.”
In addition to its statewide approach, KYNETIC will intentionally seek both innovations and entrepreneurs from diverse and underrepresented groups.
Dr. Paula Bates, professor of medicine at UofL and co-principal investigator on the grant, said the state will benefit from broader collaborations facilitated by KYNETIC.
“When you get people from different backgrounds working together, you see innovation blossom,” Dr. Bates said. “I am looking forward to seeing some new collaborations, being able to share what we have learned and learn from other people in Kentucky. I think this is a really powerful way to reach everybody in Kentucky and get some great knowledge transferred and some great new ideas.”
KYNETIC will leverage commercialization resources led by co-investigators Ian McClure – executive director of the UK Office of Technology Commercialization – Allen Morris – executive director of the UofL Commercialization EPI-Center – and April Turley director of C3’s Commercialization Core. As well, it will build on the experience brought by existing but more limited-scale tech-transfer organizations within the two primary universities – the regional IDeA biomedical technology transfer accelerator hub at UK and a current REACH hub at UofL.
Information on Kentucky’s economic development efforts and programs is available at www.ThinkKentucky.com.