The Philadelphia-based University City Science Center has named Charles Roth as one of ten finalists in its prestigious regional 2019 QED proof-of-concept program. By spring 2020, up to three winners will be selected for awards of $200,000 each with additional support from the Science Center’s network of business and industry advisors to help them ready their technologies for commercialization.
Roth, a professor of both chemical and biochemical engineering and biomedical engineering, is the lead investigator on a project to develop inhaled nanomedicines for cystic fibrosis. His project was selected as a finalist for its potential both to improve human health as well as attract industry and investor interest.
“Two years ago, we were finalists for this. They specifically asked me to reapply again this year,” Roth says. The QED proof-of-concept program’s focus is on helping finalists develop viable plans that will help them attract additional funding from sources such as the Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) , and even from venture capitalists.
As a finalist, with guidance provided by two Science Center business advisors and a student fellow, Roth is currently developing a business plan and learning what steps to take to bring his technology to market. “This is a great education for me,” Roth says.
Roth, whose research interests embrace nanomedicine, system biology, and gene silencing, was working in the area of wound infections when collaborator and Rutgers visiting scientist David Devore mentioned he knew someone with cystic fibrosis who thought a better system was needed to deliver antibiotics to get to the right places in lungs filled with thick, sticky mucus. “The mucus makes it harder to kill off all the bacteria with drugs. Patients frequently end up in the hospital for IV antibiotics. The health care costs are huge,” he explains.
“We looked into it and made a connection with Dr. Thomas Scanlin, the chief pulmonologist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson’s Cystic Fibrosis Center, who has encouraged us to find a better way to get drugs to patients,” Roth recalls.
Along the way, they received a recently concluded $50,000 Innovation grant from the New Jersey Health Foundation to support this research.
Roth has been testing established drugs – encapsulated in novel polymers that self-assemble into nanoparticles – on clinical samples of Pseudomonas bacteria obtained from sputum samples from cystic fibrosis patients at Robert Wood Johnson. “Bacteria are always evolving, so they might not be the same as those that are in patients,” he notes. “Using clinically relevant samples gives people more confidence that what they’re seeing in our lab isn’t specific to a weird lab strain of bacteria.”
Targeting the lungs of those suffering from cystic fibrosis, ultimately Roth’s inhaled nanomedicines would be delivered via conventional platforms such as nebulizers. “Short-term, treatments would be more effectively delivered. Longer term, patients will have fewer chronic recurring infections, fewer hospital stays, and lower healthcare costs,” he predicts. “If we can help to alleviate these infections, it would make a world of difference.”