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LEAP Inventor Challenge awards $175K to WashU Inventors

May 24, 2017

Five Washington University teams will be awarded up to $175,000 in the latest LEAP Inventor Challenge (LEAP) cycle. This concludes the academic year with a total $650,000 allocated to fifteen LEAP awardees.

[See Fall 2016 and Summer 2016 awardees. Note: LEAP was formerly called “Bear Cub Challenge.”]

LEAP exists to propel Washington University intellectual property towards commercialization. The money that teams win helps fund their early stage research so that they can turn their concepts and ideas into viable products. All Washington University faculty, postdoc, staff and graduate student teams are eligible to apply.

Several university departments work together on this competition to maximize industry mentorship and funding opportunities. Such facilitators include the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Skandalaris), the Office of Technology Management (OTM), the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS), and the Center for Drug Discovery (CDD).

Together with an esteemed group of industry judges, the competition facilitators are thrilled to award funding to the Spring 2017 awardees:


InvisiGro is developing a novel wireless dissolvable stimulator to accelerate bone healing after any fracture, fusion, or deficiency. This device is poised to disrupt the $30 billion bone fractures/fusion/osteoporosis market.

Principal Investigators:

  • Zohny Zohny, MD,Medical Resident, Department of Neurosurgery, WUSM
  • Manu Stephen, MS, Research Manager Wilson Z. Ray Laboratory, Department of Neurosurgery
  • Matthew MacEwan, PhD, Co-Principle Investigator, Department of Neurosurgery
  • Wilson Z. Ray, MD, Co-Principle Investigator, Department of Neurosurgery

Tumor-targeted Cancer Immunotherapy

Tumor-targeted Cancer Immunotherapy is a first-in-class immunotherapy that aims to actively recruit and traffic anti-tumor immune cells into the tumor, where they are needed most. This novel therapy binds specifically to tumor cells and will act to re-direct and focus the immune response in the tumor microenvironment while sparing normal, healthy tissues.

Principal Investigator:

  • Russell Pachynski, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Oncology, Medical Oncology & Developmental Therapeutics, Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs Member, WUSM


The AMOEBA FORGE is a software approach to the computation of drug binding affinities to protein targets, using physics-based molecular dynamics methods to determine accurate free energies of interaction. This technology represents a key step in the automation and virtualization of pharmaceutical discovery via computer-aided screening and refinement of lead compounds.

Principal Investigators:

  • Jay Ponder, PhD, Professor, Department of Chemistry, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Chris Ho, MD, PhD, Owner, Drug Design Methodologies, LLC

Metabolic modulation of immune response

Metabolic modulation of immune response tames autoimmunity by intervening with metabolic program of the activating immune responses. This can result in the novel class of anti-inflammatory therapeutics.

Principal Investigator:

  • Maxim Artyomov, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Immunology, Division of Immunology, WUSM

Viosera Therapeutics

Viosera Therapeutics is an antibiotic development company in the pre-clinical development stage of VT1, a triple combination therapeutic comprised of safe, off-patent antibiotics, that can both clear MRSA blood stream infections and suppress the development of antibiotic resistance.

Principal Investigators:

  • Nicholas Goldner, Co-Founder, CEO, and Graduate Student, DBBS
  • Christopher Bulow, Co-Founder, COO, and Graduate Student, DBBS
  • Aki Kau, PhD, CSO and Staff Scientist, Department of Pathology and Immunology
  • Gautam Dantas, PhD, co-founder, Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board, and Associate Professor, WUSM, Department of Pathology & Immunology, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Department of Molecular Microbiology, Center for Genome Systems & Systems Biology

A key element of this competition is to set up the participating teams for success through mentorship and connections. Not only is this accomplished by connecting the teams to mentors prior to the finals, but also by bringing in industry-relevant judges to the finals so that teams get early exposure. While this helps the teams immensely, the judges also see it as a benefit to them. Karen Gheesling Mullis, PhD, Venture Partner at RiverVest, explains, “The LEAP competitions give members of the University community experience in presenting their innovations to investors like RiverVest/Archer Seed Partners. The investors, in turn, get an early look at interesting emerging technologies and an opportunity to connect with the entrepreneurial individuals driving their development.”

Tiffany Lucas, Investment Analyst at BioGenerator, echoes Gheesling Mullis’s comments, “At BioGenerator, we are committed to partnering with Washington University and the St. Louis biotech community to engage and support the most promising fledgling companies. Part of that commitment includes engaging early with inventors and maintaining those relationships as a company prepares for launch.”

“It’s exciting to have such support from industry experts and investors,” explains Emre Toker, Managing Director of the Skandalaris Center. “This is a key component of the LEAP Inventor Challenge that we intend to strengthen with each cycle.”

Think you have what it takes? The application for the next cycle of the LEAP Inventor Challenge is open through June 9th! (Note the deadline extension) Apply through the Skandalaris Center.