(UM News Service) The University of Montana recently earned a four-year, $4 million Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (REACH) award from the National Institutes of Health.

The award will establish the L.S. Skaggs Institute for Health Innovation–Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (SIHI-REACH).

The UM-based hub will accelerate commercialization of biomedical innovation across Montana, Alaska, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as help academic innovators develop medical products that address unmet medical needs across the U.S.

Only five such hubs were funded across the country. It will partner with a diverse set of academic institutions – including universities and community, technical and tribal colleges – across the four-state region to train the next generation of biomedical innovators in entrepreneurship and product development.

“UM is focused on addressing equity in access to research for rural and tribal communities, and supporting biomedical research initiatives within Montana,” said Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship. “The hub will help capture and commercialize our University intellectual property, attract biotech partners and investors, and ultimately grow the biomedical product development sector in the region.”

“The path for biomedical innovators to commercialize their technology is challenging to navigate, especially in an under-resourced area,” said Dr. Karen Brown, a co-principal investigator of the grant. “Advancing academic research and innovation from bench to bedside and into the hands of patients often includes really talented scientists and entrepreneurs leaving the region to pursue better access to expertise and funding. We want to keep them here.”

Proof-of-concept funding of up to $100,000 will be available to innovators to support business and product testing activities. SIHI-REACH will collaborate with leaders at the University of Washington to connect biomedical product development capabilities from the resource-rich center of the Puget Sound across the region.

Cohorts of academic innovators will also gain access to mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and inventors, and project management support from hub team members.

“Western Montana is emerging as a biomedical entrepreneurship and innovation corridor,” said Paul Gladen, UM associate vice president of research and economic development and co-investigator of the REACH award. “We are committed to fostering a community of early-stage entrepreneurs, connecting them to expertise and mentoring and building an ecosystem of resources for the region.”

The award is the latest program to be added to the new L.S. Skaggs Institute for Health Innovation (SIHI), a UM institute dedicated to improving access to health care and emerging health innovation for rural and tribal populations. SIHI is poised to become a leader in developing partnerships to promote access to biomedical innovation in resource-limited areas.

“SIHI-REACH aims to reduce the barriers and bridge the resource gap facing academic innovators across the region,” said Dr. Erica Woodahl, director of SIHI and a co-principal investigator of SIHI-REACH. “The needs among rural and tribal areas that have largely been left out of investment in commercialization are different than metropolitan areas with academic medical centers. We are excited to create opportunities in early-stage biomedical product development that benefit from these diverse perspectives.”

Along with SIHI-REACH, the other four new REACH hubs are:

  • Chicago Biomedical Consortium Hub of Innovative Technologies for Entrepreneurship and Science, led by Northwestern University.
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore Life Science Discovery Accelerator.
  • Gulf Coast Consortia led by Texas A&M Health.
  • Mid-South REACH Hub led by Vanderbilt University.