Partners parceling out $1 million in grants
by Lindsay Kalter, Boston Herald Saturday, October 22, 2016
Boston-based medical giant Partners HealthCare is doling out $1 million in grants to get cutting-edge therapies from food allergy cures to scarless biopsies on the market within five to seven years, and at least three new local biotech companies are expected to emerge as a result.
“The potential patient impact was probably right at the top of the criteria, as well as the likely path to a commercial outcome,” Partners Vice President of Innovation Christopher Coburn said. “Because no matter how great the technology is, if it doesn’t turn into a medical product, in this case, it’s not going to get out to people.”
He added, “We could not be more enthusiastic for the opportunity to help patients and to further fuel the growth of the Boston regional economy.”
Ten local researchers will receive $100,000 each this month as part of the Partners HealthCare Innovation Discovery Grants, which was open to all 68,000 Partners employees. The grant panel was comprised of industry leaders and venture capitalists, Coburn said, so the selection process itself “created some opportunities.”
Partners, which owns Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, developed the grants to help fast-track outside-the-box therapies for medical issues that currently have no solutions.
The recipients were selected from 219 initial proposal submissions.
Dr. Lynn Bry, a pathologist at Brigham and Women’s, will receive the grant for her work on food allergy prevention and cures.
She focuses on the microbiome — microorganisms in the body, especially in the gut, that help the immune system fend off inflammation and disease. Unlike other work in this field, Bry’s research uses lab-grown organisms that would be given to people in pill form to either prevent or fight off potentially deadly food allergies.
“There are very few therapy options other than trying to avoid the offending food items,” Bry said. The EpiPen, which has seen a stratospheric price hike recently, “does not address the underlying problem” that leads to allergic reaction, she said.
Bry said the grant will help forward research in mice to determine the proper protocol for human trials, and will lay the foundation for the startup she hopes to launch.
Dr. Jay Austen, chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at MGH, will use his funds to develop a technology that would use tiny needles to prevent biopsy scars — a much-needed technology as skin cancer rates continue to rise, he said.
The tool would use needles measured at 200 microns — smaller than those used to take blood — to extract several tiny pieces of skin rather than one larger section.
“I think many of us will have areas of skin we’ll need to test, and the standard for that is to get tissue samples,” Austen said. “That leads to costly procedures, painful procedures and scars. This technology may help do away with a lot of that.”