Accelerating Innovation: IP&C’s Eighth Annual Proof of Principle Competition Awards $300,000 to Outstanding SickKids’ Projects

From exploring innovative approaches for epilepsy treatment, to introducing a device that could transform how specimens are collected from the gastrointestinal tract, this year’s Proof of Principle (PoP) Grant Competition highlighted pioneering advancements in research at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

Sponsored by Industry Partnerships & Commercialization (IP&C), PoP provides SickKids innovators with gap funding that can propel their research discoveries and inventions toward commercially viable products or services to benefit patients.

A collaborative approach to advancing promising research

The competition culminated in a roundup of advanced research and innovation IP&C’s eighth annual PoP pitch day on October 4, 2023. With a diverse panel of internal and external reviewers, co-chaired by Dr. Roman Melnyk, Faculty Liaison, Commercialization & Innovation, and Ihor Boszko, Executive Director of IP&C, projects were reviewed against a variety of criteria to assess scientific rigor and market potential.

A real strength of this competition is the benefit of collaboration, bringing together expertise from both internal and external sources. This year’s pitch review panel consisted of two scientific reviewers from SickKids, Drs. Thomas Looi and Greg Beilhartz, and three industry leaders, Dr. Christopher Tan from Merck and Co., Dr. Sintia Teichman from Sixty Degree Capital, and Parimal Nathwani from Toronto Innovation Acceleration Partners (TIAP). Panelists lent their expertise and unique perspectives to the evaluation process, posing insightful questions to presenters to determine this year’s top projects.

“The PoP funding competition is an important tool for us in supporting the most promising research innovations with the potential of being transformed into impactful, real-world solutions,” says Ihor Boszko, Executive Director, IP&C.

Funding recipients demonstrate notable strides in health research

At the heart of the competition are the outstanding projects put forth by SickKids’ talented researchers. This year, the three projects described below were selected to receive $100,000 each in funding – a significant level of support for this stage of their commercialization journey.

Identifying Small Molecule Potassium Channel Inhibitors as Novel Cancer Therapeutics

Dr. Xi Huang, Senior Scientist in the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology program, and his team have dedicated their research project to Medulloblastoma (MB), the most common malignant brain tumour in children. Existing treatments for MB come with the burden of long-term side effects, and recurrence carries a fatal prognosis. After learning that MB has a unique dependency on the KCNB2 gene, the team discovered KCNB2 is the most highly expressed potassium channel in 90 per cent of human MB. Serving as the first report of KCNB2 function in any type of cancer, Huang’s research aims to identify novel KCNB2 antagonists.

Innovating Positive Allosteric Modulators of Potassium Channels to Treat Epilepsy

Dr. Lu-Yang Wang, Senior Scientist in the Neurosciences & Mental Health program, and his research team have discovered that the Kv1.2 potassium channel is a novel target for developing antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) for the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy and precision medicine, potentially with little side effects. The team will continue its research with the goal of developing small molecule therapeutics to modulate Kv1.2 to treat epilepsy. The Wang team’s pitch was presented by Tian Kong, a PhD Candidate in the Neurosciences & Mental Health program at SickKids.

Smart Capsule for Non-Invasive Targeted Sampling and Delivery in the Gut

Finally, with his research team, Dr. John Parkinson, Senior Scientist in the Molecular Medicine program, is developing a smart capsule technology for non-invasive targeted sampling in, and delivery to, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The human gut microbiome has a profound impact on health and disease, and given that microbiome has considerable variations throughout the GI tract, a major challenge is the retrieval of physical samples from disease-relevant sites. Parkinson’s prototype uses magnetically actuated capsules that can take samples wirelessly, on demand, from within the GI tract. The team plans to use their PoP funds to further this research, and ultimately improve the current understanding of patient-microbiome interactions.

Paving the Way for Innovation

The path to achieving commercialization success extends beyond securing gap funding. IP&C is committed to providing valuable support to each finalist, equipping them for the subsequent phases of commercializing their discoveries. This will include market inputs, forging partnerships, securing licensing agreements, or helping to embark on the path to start-up company creation.  

As an annual gap funding opportunity for SickKids’ researchers, PoP not only provides grants, but it also serves as a testament to the commitment of SickKids in supporting innovation. Looking ahead, IP&C anticipates that some of these projects will have tremendous impact in the life sciences.   

Congratulations to our finalists and thank you to all those who contributed to this year’s competition.   

Click to learn more about IP&C’s PoP grant competition and the successful projects that have been funded through it.

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