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Pharmacy Associate Professor’s Project Wins Award in Program Showing Business Side of Research

PhotoSonali Kurup

As the spring semester ended for Sonali Kurup, an associate professor of Medicinal Chemistry at Ferris State University, her learning process in the 2021 Fast Forward Medical Innovation (FFMI) fastPACE program began. First, she enrolled in the six-week innovation and commercialization course offered by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program.

Kurup, a College of Pharmacy faculty member, has been researching a novel cancer therapeutic, which has received support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation through the ADVANCE program offered through Michigan State University. Funding support continued with the MI Kickstart award, provided through the University of Michigan. Kurup has also received a three-year award on the project from the National Institutes of Health.

Kurup was encouraged to participate in the course by Technology Transfer Talent Network mentors-in-residence, Bruce Markham and Karen Studer-Rabeler, whom she met as part of the ADVANCE grant. Sonali’s project focused on a novel cancer therapeutic. She joined the course under the Therapeutics Track with Tom Dowling, assistant dean of research and director of Ferris’ Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Kurup and Dowling were one of 14 research teams taking part in the course, with the Ferris duo joining participants from the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, among others.

“The FFMI fastPACE course helped develop a business plan to understand and design next steps toward possible commercialization of this therapeutic,” Kurup said. “The Zoom sessions offered us a framework to establish connections with pharmaceutical partners and companies and become more familiar with the process of commercialization.”

The fastPACE program includes six modules. Kurup said these sessions lasted from two to four hours, for six weeks.

“This is much more involved than being a casual observer of a Zoom presentation,” Kurup said. “Weekly subject areas include customer discovery interviews, intellectual property discussions and identifying critical milestones on the path to commercialization. We were regularly discussing our research projects and the formative product to those involved in lung cancer therapy, including clinicians, clinical trial specialists and scientists from the pharmaceutical industry. This was followed by a weekly discussion with fastPACE therapeutic track mentors and a summary presentation during the last week to fastPACE judges, involving research entrepreneurs with successful commercial products that started in a small lab.”

Kurup’s project was recognized at the FFMI fastPACE summary presentation, earning first place among the six teams taking part in the second breakout session.

Kurup said the fastPACE program has been a valuable learning experience as she continues her research into the novel cancer therapeutic.

“It has been an enriching process, getting the opportunity to interact with peers at some of the most distinguished research institutions in the country,” Kurup said. “It helped refine my project goals. I have a long way to go, but it is great to be planning for commercialization as a possible end goal.”