When Dr. Karim Budhwani participated in the I-Corps@NCATS short course in 2018, he knew the potential his company CerFlux could realize. “I believe that the battle against cancer – the focus of our startup – and other diseases will be hard to win if the best ideas and inventions remain buried in research labs.” Moving new discoveries beyond the lab to improve the health of our communities is the mission of the I-Corps@NCATS course, led by Molly Wasko, PhD, CCTS executive committee member and Associate Dean of Research, Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Faculty Success for the Collat School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “We train our academic researchers to better understand the process for how to bring a new innovation to market and how to accelerate the process while reducing the risk that an innovation will fail.”

Now Budhwani’s team at CerFlux is taking things to the next level. The NIH has selected the startup for its competitive I-Corps Accelerator to fast-track development of CerFlux’s rapid Personalized Oncology Efficacy Test (POET). POET is a predictive tool that captures a tumor’s makeup and measures its response to treatment before clinicians make treatment decisions. Without tools like POET, treatment is based on generalized parameters such as age, disease stage, etc. often leading to a mismatch between treatments and tumors. Consequently, about 75% of patients – nearly 3 out of 4 – have to endure first line chemotherapy that turns out to be ineffective because the treatment regimen did not match the patient’s tumor, imposing a substantial physical, emotional, and financial burden (credit: E. Burns Roensch, CerFlux). The NIH National Program will allow the CerFlux team to refine product-market fit and establish a robust go-to-market roadmap and timeline for transforming cancer treatment and discovery.

The CCTS will continue to shepherd startups like CerFlux through the I-Corps@NCATS program; last year, the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) awarded the Center over $3.1 million to help grow the reach of the I-Corps@NCATS program over the next three years. Budhwani is no doubt thankful for his participation: “We were fortunate to have access to the program which, by design, is focused on translating new knowledge from ideas and inventions into innovations that leap from lab to life and provide real value to real people. The I-Corps@NCATS program has prepared us well for the NIH I-Corps program. Needless to say, investment in programs like I-Corps@NCATS and the NIH I-Corps that focus on uncovering and unleashing new knowledge is vital for our community in the years and decades to come.”

  • “This is a huge win—this is the pathway we want our I-Corps@NCATS
    participants to go down!”

    - Molly Wasko, PhD