UC Davis Proof-of-Concept Grants Advance Innovations Towards Commercialization

Dr. Diana Farmer and Dr. Aijun Wang collaborate to develop a stem cell treatment for spina bifida

Dr. Diana Farmer and Dr. Aijun Wang talk in the research laboratory on Thursday April 23, 2015 at UC Medical Center in Sacramento, Ca. The stem cell on spina bifida has found ways to help those with the congenital disorder.

The University of California, Davis, is awarding $435,000 to help eight scientists advance their research and innovations toward commercial applications through three proof-of-concept grant programs. The recipients are targeting solutions in a range of applications including food, animal health, medical technology, energy, sustainable manufacturing and transportation.

Now in its eighth year, the Science Translation and Innovative Research (STAIR™) grant program provides awards of up to $50,000 to campus innovators to enable demonstration of early proof-of-concept for technologies being developed at the university. A second program, Data Informatics and Application Launch (DIAL™), provides awards of up to $20,000 for innovations specifically geared toward data, information science or software. The Food Systems Innovation (FSI) grant, a newly launched collaboration between Venture Catalyst and the Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH), awards $50,000 to fund innovative technology advancements aimed at addressing global nutritional challenges.

In addition to receiving grants, recipients participate in a structured entrepreneurial training program, such as the Entrepreneurship Academy hosted by the UC Davis Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Awardees are also paired with experienced business mentors to provide guidance on commercial translation.

“University research often yields exciting potential solutions, but access to funding and resources to evaluate and advance them is often a limiting factor in further development,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for Research. “These proof-of-concept grants and associated support provide a path forward for bold ideas with strong potential for success.”

The STAIR and DIAL grant programs are funded by the UC Davis Office of Research and managed by Venture Catalyst. The UC Davis School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Biological Sciences and College of Letters and Science also committed supplemental funding to awardees from their respective academic units. In addition, industry partners joined this cycle to explore projects aligned with their areas of interest, including Bayer Crop Science, Bayer Healthcare and Elanco Animal Health.

External review committees consisting of industry professionals, investors and experienced entrepreneurs, assembled by Venture Catalyst, reviewed the proposals and recommended the recipients of the awards.

The new FSI grant program was funded by the IIFH and Venture Catalyst. Applicants were evaluated by a review committee consisting of industry leaders and investors that have partnered with IIFH on various programs.

STAIR Grant Recipients

Professor Michele Barbato
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Improvement of Abrasion Resistance of Eco-friendly Fluorogypsum-based Concrete

Barbato and his team developed an economically competitive and eco-friendly substitute for ordinary Portland concrete used for sidewalks and parking lots. The team plans to extend the application to allow for use in paving roads by improving the ability to resist wearing that is required for those applications.


Professor Louise Berben
Department of Chemistry
Synthesis of Organo-aluminum Flow Battery Analytes with Enhanced Stability

Flow batteries, which store power in large tanks of liquid electrolytes, offer an attractive solution to help sustain electric grids by storing electricity from wind and solar generators. Current commercial versions rely on vanadium-based electrolytes in aqueous media. Berben is developing a version with higher energy density and wider operating temperature range using inexpensive aluminum compounds in a non-aqueous media.


Professor Allen Gao
Department of Urologic Surgery
Development of novel dual androgen receptor-AKR1C3 inhibitors

Increasing evidence shows androgen receptors (AR/ARv7) and AKR1C3 play important roles in the progression of prostate cancer and resistance to therapeutic treatments. Gao is developing a number of novel small molecules that inhibit the expression and activity of AR/ARv7 and AKR1C3, as well as the growth of drug-resistant prostate cancer cells.


Professor Aijun Wang
Department of Surgery
Engineered Placental Mesenchymal Stromal Cells and Extracellular Vesicles for the Treatment of Spinal Cord Injury

Wang and his colleagues have developed a stem cell treatment for spina bifida, a congenital form of spinal cord injury, that has been shown to be effective in a fetal lamb model and is now in a first-in-human clinical study. The team plans to expand this technology to treat adult-onset spinal cord injuries, currently for which there is no available medical treatment.


Professor Ruihong Zhang
Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
A Novel Technology for Converting Food Waste into Biodegradable Plastics

The adoption of current methods to produce biodegradable plastics have been constrained since the cost to produce them using polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) exceeds the cost of conventional plastics. Zhang is developing a novel integrated system for producing PHA from food and other organic waste that has the potential for higher production yield with lower production costs. The system uses halophilic microorganisms to synthesis PHA efficiently.


DIAL Grant Recipients

Professor Sharif Aly
Department of Population Health and Reproduction
Commercialization of the Bovine Respiratory Disease Risk Assessment for Prevention of Pneumonia in Dairy Calves

Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD), the leading cause of death in weaned and growing cattle, is often identified too late for treatment to be effective because of its complex web of risk factors and lack of clinical signs. Aly is developing a risk-assessment tool that can rapidly provide risk scores and aid in actionable interventions for each herd. His team intends to launch a demonstration study enrolling 6,000 calves.


Associate Professor Misty Humphries
Department of Surgery
Diagnosis of arterial insufficiency in patient with peripheral artery disease and diabetes

Humphries and team are utilizing a machine learning algorithm that combines pulse oximetry measurements of oxygenation and perfusion to detect critical congenital heart disease in newborns to target chronic limb-threatening ischemia. Current diagnostic tools require specially trained personnel to perform the test, resulting in limited availability and delayed diagnosis. The proposed technology aims to improve access by introducing a user-friendly diagnostic tool to evaluate limb perfusion using pulse oximeters.


Food Systems Innovation Award Recipient

Professor Daniela Barile
Department of Food Science and Technology
Developing activated probiotics for enhanced persistence and colonization in the gut

Probiotics are increasingly used to improve gut health. One current challenge is the lack of persistence of probiotics in gut ecosystems which lowers their efficacy. Co-principal investigator David Mills have demonstrated that complexing probiotic bacteria with milk glycoproteins increases persistence in the gut. Barile’s team seeks to examine whey phospholipid concentrate, a waste stream from cheese production rich in milk glycoproteins, as a generalized substrate to complex probiotic strains to enhance probiotic efficacy.

Updates from Previous Grant Recipients

Over the past seven award cycles, over $2.2M has been awarded to 42 recipients. These recipients, along with the 120 finalists, have made significant progress in advancing their technologies toward commercialization, with the licensing of 22 technologies, launch of 16 startups and formation of two research collaborations. The awardees and finalists have been successful in raising $33M in follow on funding, out of which $20M has been in the form of startup investment and $13M in additional research funding leveraging data and results from awarded project.

Of the notable accomplishments over this year, Delix Therapeutics raised $15M in seed series funding to develop a class of non-hallucinogenic versions of psychedelic compounds treating central nervous system disorders and Sierra Biopharma is working on a transformative non-immunosuppressive therapeutic for the autoimmune disease, myasthenia gravis. Sierra Biopharma was selected to participate in the 2020 Science2Startup showcase event — a forum for top scientists from around the world to present their ideas and interact with leading investors and executives in the Boston biotechnology hub.

Past Announcements

Recipients of 2021 UC Davis Chancellor’s Innovation Awards Announced

Innovation Awards

The University of California, Davis, today (June 24) named the recipients of the 2021 Chancellor’s Innovation Awards. The awards recognize faculty, project teams and community partners for their work, dedication and success in improving the lives of others and addressing the needs of our global society through innovative solutions.

“UC Davis research not only unlocks key insights to understand the world’s most critical challenges, it generates innovative solutions with tremendous benefits to our society through new products, services, education and art,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “I would like to congratulate the recipients of our innovation awards for their success in reaching beyond what is expected — even beyond what is imagined by others — to provide solutions addressing important needs.”

The awards comprise Innovator of the Year, Innovative Community Partner and Lifetime Achievement in Innovation. The program is managed by the Office of Research.

“Researchers across the campus work tirelessly throughout their careers to develop solutions that advance quality of life and drive economic growth,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for Research at UC Davis. “These awards honor the significance of their work and the valuable contribution to our society.”

Read more…

UC Davis Affiliated Startup Developing Ecommerce Fraud Prevention Solutions Acquired by Stripe

Sam King, UC Davis associate professor of Computer Science and co-founder of Bouncer Technologies.

Sam King, UC Davis associate professor of Computer Science and co-founder of Bouncer Technologies.

Bouncer Technologies, a startup founded on technology developed at the University of California, Davis, has been acquired by Stripe, a global technology company that builds economic infrastructure for the internet.

Bouncer was founded in 2019 by UC Davis Associate Professor of Computer Science Sam King along with fellow ex-Lyft employees Will Megson and Steven Liu. The company developed a new, secure app called Bouncer Scan that uses machine learning to read credit cards in seconds and reject fraudulent cards, transactions and phones.

Bouncer Scan is an app that can be integrated into a business’ ecommerce platform. It allows the user to scan an image of the card and captures the necessary information for secure payment while rejecting fraudulent schemes like images of cards, fake cards and phones used to scan thousands of cards. The company states that the analysis is performed locally on the user’s mobile phone and that a subset of the data is transmitted without the image.

Stripe plans to integrate Bouncer’s technology into Stripe Radar, a fraud prevention tool whose machine learning models are trained on purchases made at millions of companies around the world every day.

“Bouncer has developed a great tool for modern internet businesses, providing a way to quickly identify stolen cards, while also ensuring legitimate customers can transact without being blocked,” said Simon Arscott, Business Lead for Stripe’s Radar fraud prevention product. “We’re thrilled to welcome the Bouncer team, and their years of experience building payment authentication software for businesses.”

Leveraging the Intersections of Industry and Research

Bouncer’s foundational technology was developed in King’s lab at UC Davis and licensed through the university’s technology transfer office — InnovationAccess.

Having made a round-trip from academic research to industry and then back to academic research, King developed an appreciation for how the two benefited each other.

King previously held positions at Lyft and Twitter during his stint in industry. He had also launched a startup that was acquired by Twitter.

“The most important lesson I learned from my time in industry was how the software you build impacts real people who are trying to use the apps that we protect,” said King. “We took this perspective — one of putting the end-users first — and applied it to everything we did.” This guided his team’s research and development towards the idea of scanning cards instead of blocking suspicious transactions and applying machine learning and systems to ensure that everyone has equal access to apps.

King leveraged the technology commercialization resources at UC Davis.

“I view the technology transfer process as one that empowers faculty to do more with their research as opposed to an endpoint,” said King. “We are fortunate to have resources like Venture Catalyst and InnovationAccess at UC Davis to facilitate success at that intersection.”

UC Davis Venture Catalyst helped Bouncer secure its first working space at Davis Coworking, one of several incubator facilities participating in the university’s Distributed Research Incubation & Venture Engine (DRIVETM) network.

“The progress that the Bouncer team has made has been remarkable and we would like to congratulate them and the team at Stripe on the acquisition,” said Bill Tucker, interim associate vice chancellor for Innovation and Technology Commercialization. “It is very fulfilling to see innovations translated from university research enter the market and deliver value to society.”

King says another key enabler for Bouncer was being accepted to the prestigious and highly-competitive Y-Combinator program in 2019. This program, located in Silicon Valley, provides funding, training and connections to help secure investments.

“Research asks long-term questions and works on harder problems, and the company takes these ideas and builds real software for real people,” he said. “Combining the two together gives you the best of both worlds and in my opinion, you have to have both if you want to solve problems.”

UC Davis Venture Catalyst Expands Program to Accelerate Technology Commercialization with STAIR-Plus Grants — Announces Recipients

John Voss STAIR Grant Recipient

To support campus innovators in advancing their cutting-edge technologies towards commercialization, Venture Catalyst – within the Technology Management and Corporate Relations division of the UC Davis Office of Research – has offered Science Translation and Innovative Research (STAIRTM) Grants for the last four years. The unique STAIR Grant program provides funding and support to help innovators demonstrate proof-of-concept and commercial feasibility for their technologies. To date, a total of $897,000 has been awarded to 19 faculty members as part of this program.

This year, Venture Catalyst announced the addition of the STAIR-Plus™ Grant program, intended to offer additional support to STAIR Grant recipients who have successfully achieved their projected commercialization milestones and are poised for commercial impact pending completion of specific targeted activities. Each recipient receives up to $20,000 in funding to be deployed over a one-year period. Funding for the STAIR-Plus program was made possible by the State of California’s Assembly Bill 2664, which was passed in 2016.

2017 STAIR-Plus Grant Recipients


Gino Cortopassi, professor, Department of Molecular Biosciences

Transition to Patentable New Chemical Entity Shc inhibitors for Fatty Liver Disease

Cortopassi and his team have identified several compounds that inhibit Shc, a signaling protein that regulates the body’s response to insulin and resistance to pediatric nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. With assistance from the STAIR Grant, the team conducted medicinal chemistry optimization to narrow dozens of functional parent molecules down to several of the most productive candidates. The STAIR-Plus Grant will allow the team to conduct additional screening and test the two most potent inhibitors in-vivo in an animal model.


Tony Simon, professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Translation of Neurotherapeutic Video Games to Virtual Reality

Simon has invented a “neurotherapeutic” video game designed to help improve the cognitive abilities of children with one of several genetic disorders, the healthy aging and patients with many forms of traumatic brain injury or stroke. The STAIR Grant enabled Simon and his team to build prototypes utilizing desktop computers and game consoles which were used to conduct tests to provide evidence of clinical benefit. Simon plans to use funding from the STAIR-Plus Grant to develop, with his game design partner, a second generation prototype utilizing a virtual reality platform and to conduct preliminary tests for usability and efficacy potential.

John Voss, professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine

A Novel Nitroxide-based Agent to Produce Contrast Enhancement for Amyloid Beta Peptide Detection by MRI

Voss’s team is developing technology based on a small molecule with potential for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The compound is innovative for its paramagnetic properties, which affect MRI intensities correlating to an early and prominent marker for Alzheimer’s. Unlike available imaging methods, this approach would be less expensive, enable greater patient access and eliminate radiation exposure for the patient. Voss utilized the STAIR Grant to conduct in vivo tests to demonstrate effectiveness and to synthesize nine novel small molecules. Voss plans to use the STAIR-Plus Grant to conduct additional optimization leading to the selection of a lead candidate. He also plans to use high resolution imaging to better correlate the contrast signal with identifiable brain structures.

Each application was reviewed by the STAIR-Plus Grant review committee, which included Office of Research staff and external industry reviewers with specific domain expertise. The review committee considered the technical merit, commercial potential, outcomes from previous STAIR Grant milestones and alignment of budget with projected activities for each project.

“I’m thrilled that the California Legislature’s investment in innovation and entrepreneurship at the university is enabling us to extend the bridge between cutting-edge research and its potential for transformative human impact,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of Research and executive director of Venture Catalyst. “These funds, in addition to the prior investment by the university through our STAIR Grants, are accelerating the commercialization of new technologies from UC Davis.”

An important component of the STAIR-Plus program is the engagement of award recipients with additional entrepreneurial and technology commercialization support and resources through a unique collaboration between Venture Catalyst and the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Each award recipient will participate in a cohort-based series of innovation and commercialization clinics focused on helping awardees develop the skills and networks needed to develop the commercial potential and resulting societal impact of their ideas.

These highly customized business clinics will include engagement with industry experts and mentors to supplement the workshops, which will be focused on commercialization elements including market and business model validation and coaching for effective business communication.

AB 2664 Spurs Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Assembly Bill 2664, also referred to as the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion bill, was authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, and signed last fall by Governor Jerry Brown. AB 2664 is designed to propel new innovation and entrepreneurship efforts across the University of California through investments in infrastructure, incubators and entrepreneurship education programs. The $22 million investment was dispersed equally to each of the ten UC campuses at the beginning of 2017. Venture Catalyst is the program lead at UC Davis and is implementing a variety of innovation and entrepreneurship expansion activities in conjunction with partners on campus, including the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Engineering Student Startup Center, the Office of the Provost, Graduate Studies and the Internship and Career Center, as well as external community partners.


UC Davis Affiliated Startup Aims to Improve Detection of Congenital Heart Defects in Newborns

Heather Siefkes, assistant professor of pediatric critical care at UC Davis Children’s Hospital

Heather Siefkes, assistant professor of pediatric critical care at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, and founder of the startup NeoPOSE, signed a letter of agreement for the exclusive rights to commercialize a new technology developed at UC Davis that could improve the detection of congenital heart defects in newborns.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 7,200 babies in the United States are born with a critical congenital heart defect (CCHD) every year. The condition is life-threatening and prevents the heart from circulating blood effectively throughout the body.

The current approach to screening for these defects uses pulse oximetry. The non-invasive, painless and low-cost test measures oxygen saturation in blood as an indicator of how well oxygen is supplied to tissues through the body. All states now require the screening. Siefkes herself helped get legislation passed in Oregon — testifying in support of the screen as legislation was being considered.

“The mandate by states was a tremendous step forward to help screen, but unfortunately, an estimated 15 percent of critical congenital heart defects still go undetected,” said Siefkes. “And, when it comes to such heart defects, the timeline for detection is critical.”

Siefkes personal clinical experience bolsters her motivation to continue to improve detection. She recalls one event in particular when a two-week-old baby came to the emergency room very sick.

“It was clear that the baby had a heart defect that was not detected by the oximeter test,” she said. “The late diagnosis contributed to the unfortunate death of the baby and lit a fire in me to explore research to prevent such tragedies from happening again.”

“Pulse oximetry is good at catching defects that cause poor oxygenation of the blood flow, for example, when the pathway from heart to lung and back to heart is interrupted,” she said. “But conditions that obstruct blood flow to the body, such as coarctation of the aorta, are only detected about one-third of the time by oxygen saturation screening.” Coarctation of the aorta, or narrowing of the aorta vessel, is one of the most common critical heart defects.

To address the gap, Siefkes looked to enhance the current screening tool, knowing it could be the quickest path to clinical acceptance.

Pulse oximetry can also be used to quantify blood flow to pick up abnormalities caused by obstructions to flow to the body, but the variability in the data over time makes that impractical to interpret and apply in a clinical setting. As a practicing clinician, Siefkes knew the data would need to be processed in a manner that would make it clear and actionable.

Siefkes enlisted the help of graduate students, and Professors Chen-Nee Chuah and Satyan Lakshminrusimha to develop a screening algorithm that combines non-invasive measurements of perfusion, oxygenation and waveform characteristics.

In 2019, the team received a Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) award and a National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) grant to conduct a clinical study at six hospitals. The objective was to develop a machine learning/artificial intelligence model to identify the perfusion (blood flow) value that can predict CCHD.

In 2020, Siefkes received internal funding through a proof-of-concept grant from the Venture Catalyst Data, Informatics and Application Launch (DIAL) program. The program provides grants up to $20,000 to advance research and innovations with commercial potential.

The team has enrolled 300 patients to date and looks to complete enrollment this fall. Once the study is complete, the team will conduct a follow-up study to validate the algorithms developed during the initial study.

BridgeBio Pharma, Inc. and UC Davis Establish Collaboration to Transform Research into Potential Therapies for Genetically Driven Diseases

BridgeBio team work closely with investigators at UC Davis

BridgeBio Pharma, Inc. announced a collaboration with the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), to advance research and the development of investigational medicines for patients with genetically driven conditions and cancers.

“UC Davis is a top-tier research university and we feel honored to get the chance to collaborate closely with the talented team there as we work to discover, create, test and deliver breakthrough medicines for people who are suffering from genetic diseases,” said BridgeBio founder and CEO Neil Kumar, Ph.D.

Under the agreement, the BridgeBio team will work closely with investigators at UC Davis to seek and evaluate potential research projects in genetic disease and precision oncology.

“We have a great appreciation for BridgeBio’s vision to create new pathways that connect innovative research to potential treatments for diseases that may not otherwise be pursued in the marketplace,” said Bill Tucker, interim associate vice chancellor for Innovation and Technology Commercialization at UC Davis. “We are thrilled to combine our expertise in the hope of expanding the impact of our research to help those in need.”

BridgeBio collaborates with stand-out academic institutions, including UC Davis, to support research around genetically driven conditions and is focused on rapidly translating findings into meaningful treatments for patients. Today BridgeBio also announced formal partnerships with Brown University, GlycoNet, The Lundquist Institute, Oregon Health & Science University, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and University of California, San Diego – for a total of 20 partnerships between BridgeBio and leading academic and research institutions to date

Read the company’s full press release here

Repurposing Used Electric Vehicle Batteries for Solar Power Storage

Local startup licensing technology from UC Davis aims to reduce energy costs and environmental impact

University of California, Davis and RePurpose Energy, a clean energy startup, have executed a licensing agreement for an innovative system that repurposes batteries from electric cars to use as energy storage systems with various applications, like solar power

The University of California, Davis and RePurpose Energy, a clean energy startup, have executed a licensing agreement for an innovative system that repurposes batteries from electric cars to use as energy storage systems with various applications, like solar power. The license, negotiated by InnovationAccess, the university’s office for technology transfer, provides RePurpose access to commercialize the technology developed at UC Davis.

As battery technology has advanced, its use has expanded into many applications, with a particular impact on the increased adoption of electric vehicles. Over the last ten years, battery powered electric cars have increased dramatically, reaching 3.2 million in 2020.

With this rapid growth comes an imminent challenge — how to dispose of all of those batteries that need to be replaced.  Over time, batteries lose their storage capacity and require special methods for disposal due to their toxic components. For electric vehicles that begins when batteries lose 25 to 30 percent of their charge capacity, often occurring after five to ten years of use.

Retired electric vehicle batteries paired with a solar panel system in a microgrid at the Robert Mondavi Institute Winery

Retired electric vehicle batteries paired with a solar panel system in a microgrid Retired electric vehicle batteries paired with a solar panel system in a microgrid at the Robert Mondavi Institute Winery (Credit California Energy Commission)at the Robert Mondavi Institute Winery (Credit California Energy Commission)

Jae Wan Park, professor Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC Davis looked at this from a different perspective, one of opportunity.

“While these batteries can no longer meet the needs to power the vehicle, they still have plenty of energy capacity to service other applications,” said Park. “We see an opportunity not only to reduce the environmental impact of batteries, but to also offer more affordable clean energy solutions.”

Park, who had been researching fuel cell technology for over a decade, turned his attention to exploring different applications. He noticed a parallel trend happening in the industry with the rapid deployment of solar panels. In 2011, he purchased a used battery on eBay and retrofitted it to test the idea at his home with a solar panel system.

After almost a decade of researching and innovating, Park received a grant from the California Energy Commission to install energy storage in a microgrid at the Robert Mondavi Institute Winery using retired electric vehicle batteries paired with a solar panel system. This allowed his team to prove a scaled up, 300kw commercial system.

One of the biggest challenges was quantifying the used batteries’ state of health and balancing the capacity of each unit for optimal efficiency and safety. Initially the team labored through a three-hour process of discharging and then recharging each battery, but they quickly realized the need for a more efficient approach. Over time, they developed a better method that measures the response to an electrical pulse and uses machine-learning algorithms to determine the state of health in less than 15 seconds.

In 2018, Park decided to commercialize this idea and founded RePurpose Energy with his graduate students Ryan Barr and Joseph Lacap, who have become COO and CTO, respectively. To do so, he enlisted the help of the UC Davis Venture Catalyst team.

“I recall the realization that the entire team was comprised of engineers without a firm grasp on what needed to be done to make this commercially viable,” Park said. “We were pleased to be connected with the resources through Venture Catalyst to guide us in the right direction and help get us started.”

The team quickly began to receive attention, winning the grand prize in the 2019 Big Ideas contest supported by the University of California Office of the President as well as a $12,500 award from the UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition. More recently, the U.S. Green Building Council selected RePurpose as one of the top 10 green building products for 2021.

(Left to right) Professor and Chief Executive Officer Jae Wan Park, Chief Operating Officer Ryan Barr, and Chief Technology Officer Joe Lacap

(Left to right) Professor and Chief Executive Officer Jae Wan Park, Chief Operating Officer Ryan Barr, and Chief Technology Officer Joe Lacap (Credit Big Ideas Contest)

The company is now engaged in validating a 1.2-megawatt system in an industrial complex in Sacramento thanks to a $3 million grant from the California Energy Commission. The need for such reserves in power is growing with the increased power outages in Northern California due to wildfire risk, especially in industrial applications with refrigerated goods.

“We are always thrilled to see companies like RePurpose bring innovations from UC Davis to the market that address important needs in our society,” said Bill Tucker, interim associate vice chancellor for Innovation and Technology Commercialization. “That connection between entrepreneurship and innovation is critical to helping our regional economy flourish.”

Technology Commercialization Proof-of -Concept Grants Available


Venture Catalyst manages three proof-of-concept programs, which provide funding and resources to translate basic UC Davis research with commercial potential by demonstrating proof-of-concept and establishing market viability. These programs also help develop an innovative and entrepreneurial culture that extends the benefits of UC Davis research activities beyond the boundaries of the university.

  1. Science Translation & Innovative Research (STAIR™) Grant
  2. Food Systems Innovation Grant
  3. Data, Informatics & Application Launch (DIAL™) Grant

Key features of the proof-of-concept programs include:

  1. targeted funding to bridge the gap between basic research and early-stage commercialization efforts,
  2. project work conducted over a 12-month period,
  3. Review Committee consisting of industry representatives with corporate, investor, and entrepreneurial expertise,
  4. feedback and guidance on commercialization from members of the Review Committee and the Venture Catalyst team, and
  5. structured entrepreneurial training.

Over the past seven cycles, the proof-of-concept programs have awarded over $2.2 million of funding to 49 projects. These projects have resulted in 22 intellectual property agreements, including 16 startups launched around foundational technologies, and have been able to attract roughly $33 million of follow-on funding. See the list of previous awardees here and view the executive summary for the 2019-20 cycle here.

Venture Catalyst will begin accepting application for the eighth cycle of the proof-of-concept programs on January 19, 2021 with an application deadline of March 3, 2021 at 5:00 pm PST. Applications for all proof-of-concept programs can be submitted through Office of Research’s InfoReady grant application platform (Kerberos login required). The direct links to each grant are as follows:

Potential applicants can view a recorded information session for the 2020-21 cycle. If you would like to request an overview presentation and/or a Q&A session for your department or unit, please email stairgrant@ucdavis.edu.

For the STAIR and DIAL Grant programs, Venture Catalyst has engaged campus and industry partners to expand potential funding available to particular technologies and projects through the program. Partners include Elanco, the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, the UC Davis College of Letters & Science, the UC Davis School of Medicine, and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. See additional details on types of funding and areas of interest in the program materials below.


Technology Focus

IP Consideration

Project Budget

Funding Available for 2020-21 Cycle

Download Program Materials for 2020-21 Cycle

*Supplemental funding available from campus and industry partners
**All eligible Food Systems Innovation Grant applicants will also be reviewed through the STAIR Grant program

Email questions about any of the proof-of-concept grant programs to stairgrant@ucdavis.edu.

UC Davis Licenses Novel COVID-19 Lung Treatment Using Inhaled Statins to InVixa, Inc

Amir Zeki, associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UC Davis and co-founder of InVixa Inc.

Amir Zeki, associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UC Davis and co-founder of InVixa Inc.

The University of California, Davis and InVixa Inc., a biopharmaceutical startup, have executed a licensing agreement for a novel method using inhaled statins to treat the severe respiratory disease known as COVID-19. The license, negotiated by the InnovationAccess team within the UC Davis Office of Research, provides exclusive access for InVixa to commercialize the technology developed at the university for COVID-19.

While statins are one of the most prescribed drugs on the market, typically used to treat cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol levels in the blood, some studies have demonstrated a potential link to improved outcomes in some lung diseases due to statins’ immune-modulatory properties.

Dr. Amir Zeki, associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UC Davis and co-founder of InVixa, began investigating the potential use of statins to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2007. At the time, pre-clinical studies showed a clear positive effect; however, subsequent human clinical trials using oral statins yielded mixed findings.

“While some people started to discount the potential and effectiveness of using statins to treat respiratory disease, I suspected it might have to do with the delivery method, and that with the oral route not enough of the drug was reaching the lung tissue,” said Zeki. “Scientific understanding of statins’ pharmacokinetic properties certainly supports this theory in principle, and ongoing work is testing this idea in humans.”

Zeki began researching an alternative approach by delivering the statins directly into the airways via inhalation using animal models. The use of inhaled drugs is common in clinical practice to treat airway diseases such as asthma and COPD, albeit using different FDA-approved drugs.

Zeki tested the idea on rodents, followed by non-human primates at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis. “Depending on the statin tested, we found we could give appropriate statin doses via the airways which were well-tolerated, and with beneficial effects,” he noted. “That is when we pivoted to seeing this as a large opportunity to develop better treatments for our patients.”

A ‘Pandemic’ Pivot

Working in the Intensive Care Units with his physician colleagues, Zeki was on the front lines when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States. He quickly learned about the clinical manifestations of COVID-19 and the severe respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. In response, he pivoted with his team to explore the use of inhaled statins to protect the lungs against the virus’s damaging effects.

Existing observational research has shown that patients taking oral statins regularly prior to and during their illness had faster recovery from the flu, along with lower mortality rates. A recent study by researchers at UC San Diego Health established a similar effect in COVID-19 patients, where patients taking oral statins had a reduced risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease, as well as faster recovery times. Another retrospective clinical study in China on nearly 14,000 patients showed that statin use was associated with a significant reduction in mortality among patients with COVID-19.

“These results shed some light and revealed the potential role statins could play in the treatment of COVID-19. However, these were limited to the conventional oral application,” said Zeki. “Our research is looking at the impact of using an aerosolized delivery mechanism to explore the full potential of these drugs.”

He added, “The inhaled delivery approach allows for statin doses with a potentially greater local airway therapeutic effect. Given what we know of statin pharmacokinetics, their physiochemical properties, and generally low oral bioavailability, as well as prior negative, or equivocal, clinical trials using oral statins to treat other respiratory conditions, we believe our approach has a strong chance of achieving a beneficial clinical effect in COVID-19.”

In collaboration with UC Davis virologists, the team began pre-clinical cell culture studies in 2020 and will begin experiments using COVID-19 rodent models in early 2021 to evaluate the statins’ efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Zeki’s lab is using primary human airway epithelial cells grown in air-liquid interface to elucidate governing mechanisms. The lab is working in collaboration with Professor Stefan Rothenburg in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. In parallel, Zeki is also preparing to conduct animal studies to address inhaled statin efficacy in two COVID-19 rodent models with Professor Lark Coffey in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Supported by the campus’ Venture Catalyst program, Zeki and colleagues launched the new company, InVixa, to commercialize the novel application. UC Davis’ Venture Catalyst unit offers several innovative programs that bridge the gap between early-stage research and commercialization. InVixa participated in Venture Catalyst’s START program, which provides training, resources, and networking opportunities to help university-affiliated startups succeed.

“The UC Davis Venture Catalyst unit played a pivotal role getting us off the ground,” said Zeki. “I can’t imagine getting to this point without their guidance and supporting programs.”

David Lubarsky, Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences and CEO of UC Davis Health, said, “This is another excellent example of leveraging UC Davis Health’s scientific resources and entrepreneurial spirit to explore solutions for crucial health care needs. I applaud Dr. Zeki and his team for pursuing novel approaches based on their direct clinical experiences and research. There is a tremendous need to help patients facing respiratory failure, which has been the leading cause of mortality for patients with COVID-19.”

InVixa is continuing its pre-clinical testing, which includes pharmacokinetic studies, to identify a lead candidate for formulation. Thereafter, the company plans to pursue human clinical trials later in 2021.


AJ Cheline, UC Davis Office of Research

UC Davis to Lead New Artificial Intelligence Institute for Next Generation Food Systems

UC Davis to Lead New Artificial Intelligence Institute for Next-Generation Food Systems

The University of California, Davis, has been awarded $20 million as part of a multi-institutional collaboration to establish an institute focused on enabling the next-generation food system through the integration of artificial intelligence, or AI, technologies. The award is part of a larger investment announced today (Aug. 26) by the National Science Foundation, or NSF, in partnership with several federal agencies — distributing a total of $140 million to fund seven complementary AI research institutes across the nation.

The AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, or AIFS, aims to meet growing demands in our food supply by increasing efficiencies using AI and bioinformatics spanning the entire system — from growing crops through consumption. This includes optimizing plant traits for yield, crop quality and disease resistance through advances in molecular breeding, in addition to minimizing resource consumption and waste through development of agriculture-specific AI applications, sensing platforms, and robotics. The team’s plan also intends to benefit consumers through enhancements to food safety and development of new tools to provide real-time assessment of meals that can guide personalized health decisions.

‘Paving the way to a transformation’

“The food system is ripe for disruption, with many advances over the past decade paving the way to a transformation,” said Ilias Tagkopoulos, professor in the UC Davis Department of Computer Science and Genome Center, and director of the new institute. “AI will serve as both the enabling technology and the connective tissue that brings together these elements and catalyzes this transformation to a safer, fairer and more efficient food system for the next generation.”

Other principal investigators from UC Davis include Nitin Nitin, professor in the Departments of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and of Food Science and Technology; Mason Earles, assistant professor in the Departments of Viticulture and Enology and of Biological and Agricultural Engineering; and Xin Liu, professor in the Department of Computer Science.

The institute has been designed to be inclusive, fostering collaborations to develop open-source AI solutions across the food system. Given food’s fundamental role in human health and well-being, coupled with its far-reaching impacts on the national economy and environment, the institute will bring together more than 40 researchers from six institutions: UC Davis; UC Berkeley; Cornell University; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Engagement and collaboration

In addition to the scientific and technical objectives, the institute’s charter includes a significant focus on education, outreach and collaboration.

“Our success won’t only come from breakthroughs and innovation of new technologies and systems, but also a ready workforce, an engaged public and collaboration with industry partners to solve real challenges,” said Gabriel Youtsey, chief innovation officer at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The institute’s plan includes programs specific for K-16 education, college internships and fellowships, curriculum enrichment, broadening participation and diversity, corporate engagement, and knowledge transfer. These programs will be bolstered by leveraging existing platforms such as UC Davis’ Innovation Institute for Food and Health, CITRIS Banatao Institute and Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, or VINE. Additional efforts are planned in alignment with NSF’s call to ensure AI systems are secure, safe, ethical and fair through design, accountability and transparency.

Development of the proposal for the award was facilitated by the Interdisciplinary Research and Strategic Initiatives division of the Office of Research at UC Davis. The institute is designated as a special research program under the administration of the Office of Research.

Assembled expertise offers hope

“As with many of our world’s greatest challenges, addressing the critical needs in our food supply requires extensive collaboration between experts from different disciplines,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. “The collection of expertise assembled for this new institute brings much hope for transformative advancements to be realized.”

Funding for the institute is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture as part of a larger initiative led by the U.S. National Science Foundation to establish new artificial intelligence institutes to accelerate research, expand America’s workforce and transform society in the decades to come. The NSF AI institutes will collaborate with industry and government to advance the frontiers of AI as well as a range of science and engineering disciplines and societal sectors that stand to benefit from AI innovation.

“Recognizing the critical role of AI, NSF is investing in collaborative research and education hubs, such as the USDA-NIFA AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems anchored at UC Davis, which will bring together academia, industry, and government to unearth profound discoveries and develop new capabilities advancing American competitiveness for decades to come,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the National Science Foundation. “Just as prior NSF investments enabled the breakthroughs that have given rise to today’s AI revolution, the awards being announced today will drive discovery and innovation that will sustain American leadership and competitiveness in AI for decades to come.”

Media Resources

Ilias Tagkopoulos, Genome Center, 530-752-4821, itagkopoulos@ucdavis.edu

AJ Cheline, Office of Research, 530-752-1101, acheline@ucdavis.edu

Andy Fell, News and Media Relations, 530-752-4533, ahfell@ucdavis.edu