Accelerating Innovations for Cancer

Arti Gaur
Principal Investigator Arti B. Gaur, PhD

In its first year, the Accelerator attracted 17 teams, made up of 41 faculty and students, all eager to turn discoveries into life-changing treatments for cancer patients.

Dartmouth Cancer Center Director, Steven D. Leach, MD

One year ago, Dartmouth Cancer Center and Dartmouth’s Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship joined together to conceive the Dartmouth Innovations Accelerator for Cancer. This novel platform quickly became a sought-after launching pad for research teams to receive the entrepreneurial support, education, and infrastructure needed to translate promising innovations into the marketplace. With guidance from alumni and industry leaders and philanthropic generosity, Dartmouth cancer research can more easily advance through the development pipeline to commercialization.

From November 2020 to April 2021, 17 teams of faculty and students competitively pitched their projects to an external review panel of successful biomedical entrepreneurs and investors. In this video, researchers from the three winning teams share how the Accelerator is advancing their innovations.

Assistant professor of neurology, Arti B. Gaur, PhD, and two graduate students from her lab, won the largest $300 thousand award for their project on a new potential therapy for high-grade gliomas, a kind of brain tumor for which the median survival is only 14 months. The award will help fund a critical next step on the journey to clinical trials: large-scale pharmacology studies by an independent commercial lab. “This award will help us get to the next phase, where we can potentially attract the big money that will be needed for clinical trials,” says Gaur. “I have also seen my approach and thought process evolve as a result of the Accelerator, to think in a more systematic, comprehensive way about bringing a new therapy or technology to patients.”

The 2021 Award Recipients are:

$300,000 Award
Establishing a Safe, Effective Therapy for Brain Tumors

Project Leads: Arti Gaur, PhD, assistant professor of neurology, Geisel; and Jordan Isaacs, Guarini ’24, PhD student in the Cancer Biology Program.

The Innovation: The award will fund dose optimization and pharmacology studies for a new, Dartmouth-created highly selective anti-estrogen compound that targets brain tumors. The studies are necessary to enter clinical trials.

$100,000 Award
Solving MYC, the Most Wanted Target in Cancer

Project Leads: Michael Cole, PhD, a professor of molecular and systems biology, Geisel; and Edmond J. Feris, Guarini ’19, research associate, NCCC.

The Innovation: This award will fund the characterization of MYC inhibitors, which were identified by screening 50,000 compounds. MYC is a cancer-promoting gene prevalent in breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma.

$50,000 Award
Barcoded-Antibody Library for In Vitro Engineering (B-ALIVE)

Project Leads: Jiwon Lee, the Ralph and Marjorie Crump Assistant Professor of Engineering, Thayer; Seungmin Shin, PhD, post-doctoral fellow; and Nicholas Curtis, PhD candidate and National Science Foundation graduate fellow, Thayer.

The Innovation: This award will fund the development of a technology platform that will enable more-accurate high-throughput screening of new, more-effective cancer drugs, specifically monoclonal antibodies.

Although only three teams won monetary awards, all teams participated in a 10-week course staffed by Dartmouth and two local biomedical companies in which they learned about biomedical entrepreneurship and regulatory requirements. Teams had to create step-by-step, multiyear plans for the development of their innovations that included invention disclosures and patents, meetings with venture capital groups, discussions with private companies, and establishing connections with successful biomedical entrepreneurs and investors.

 “When you look at the number of biotech start-ups that have spun out of our cancer center, it’s astounding,” says Steven D. Leach, MD, director of NCCC and the Preston T. and Virginia R. Kelsey Chair in Cancer at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. “The Accelerator builds on our culture of collaboration and innovation. In its first year, it has attracted 17 teams, made up of 41 faculty and students, all eager to turn discoveries into life-changing treatments for cancer patients.”

Year two of the Accelerator is underway with faculty already preparing for the next round of application submissions.

On the philanthropy side, the Innovations Accelerator has attracted over $3.5 million. Generous donors, alumni and parents from across Dartmouth have enthusiastically given of their time, expertise and financial support to the Accelerator to establish a robust network of affiliated entrepreneurs, industry partners and investors.

All together, these efforts are solving unmet needs in cancer care and will ultimately improve patients’ lives.