A cell-free protein synthesis system that can make medicines on demand, a computational model of cell processes that could make research less costly and more efficient, and a new way to manufacture cell therapies on a large scale were just three of the innovative ideas presented at Medicine by Design’s first pitch competition.
The competition, held on June 14, was the culmination of Medicine by Design’s “Pitching Science” workshop, a six-week long program for graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research associates working in Medicine by Design-funded laboratories. Offered in collaboration with Talk Boutique, the workshop is part of a series of educational opportunities aimed at enhancing the capacity of emerging regenerative medicine researchers to communicate their work to non-scientific audiences.
“Our graduate students, post-docs and research associates are doing great research,” said Allison Brown, Director of Strategy & Translation at Medicine by Design. “This workshop helps them communicate more effectively about that research to potential investors, policy makers, researchers in different fields or the general public, which will be crucial to their future careers, whether they remain in academia or pursue positions in industry or elsewhere.”
The program launched in early May with a half-day seminar on building a compelling pitch and polishing presentation skills. Participants then honed their pitches during three one-on-one sessions with Talk Boutique speaking coach Ian Keeling, who also teaches sketch and improv at The Second City in Toronto.
On pitch day, the eight participants from labs across the University of Toronto (U of T) and its affiliated hospitals presented their business plans to a panel of judges from Medicine by Design, CCRM, the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research and U of T Entrepreneurship.
Aidan Tinafar delivered the winning pitch for Liberum Biotech, an automated, cell-free production system for protein manufacturing developed in the lab of his supervisor, Keith Pardee, an assistant professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.
“As a graduate student who is already engaged in entrepreneurship, I enrolled in this workshop to strengthen my ability to distill our venture’s value proposition and communicate it to diverse audiences,” said Tinafar, an MSc student who recently left a career in corporate law to study synthetic biology. “I have come out of the workshop with a compelling pitch that I can use to grow our company, and the confidence and poise to deliver it effectively.”
Maria Abou Chakra, a research associate in lab of Professor Gary Bader at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular & Biomolecular Research, came second with a pitch for CellPredictor, a 4D cellular computational model that will reduce guess work and overhead costs involved in testing research hypotheses.
Ashton Trotman-Grant, a PhD candidate in the Department of Immunology, placed third with his presentation on Notch Therapeutics, a company co-founded by his supervisor, Professor J.C. Zúñiga-Pflücker, and Professor Peter Zandstra, former executive director of Medicine by Design and now director of both the School of Biomedical Engineering and the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia. Currently in incubation at CCRM, the company is developing off-the-shelf engineered T cells using stem cells to make therapy cheaper and accessible to more patients with cancer and immune deficiencies.
Other pitches included a boutique subscription news service providing in-depth coverage of Ontario life sciences companies, a drug discovery model that could enhance muscle regeneration in injured and aging patients, and a hospital-grade, encrypted, integrated communication system for health-care professionals to improve the efficiency and timeliness of patient care.
Medicine by Design will offer another Pitching Science workshop as part of Summer by Design in July. It will also offer a communications workshop in fall 2019 focused on preparing a TED-style talk. Registration will open in late summer. Learn more about Medicine by Design’s educational and career development opportunities for trainees.