CCTS Awarded for National Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Program Expansion, Providing Support to Scientists To Help Move Their Discoveries to the Marketplace


The National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) has awarded the Center for Clinical & Translational Science (CCTS), with its “Hub” at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, over $3.1 million to help grow the reach of their national program, I-Corps@NCATS, over the next three years. The I-Corps@ NCATS program is a 5-week short course, based upon the successful National Science Foundation I-Corps and I-Corps at NIH Entrepreneurial Training Program, which combines business model training with a customer discovery process. The short course helps prepare teams to apply to go on to a national program at NSF or NIH, and is designed to help all participants, regardless of the stage of development of their innovation. Participants are ultimately pressed to explore the question: Who is the customer for your science, and why do they care about your solution?

The CCTS will use the funding to enhance the process of scientific translation by taking the demonstrated lessons learned and best practices from the I-Corps@NCATS program and disseminating them across a wider network of Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Hubs. This effort reflects the mission of NCATS and the CTSA program to develop effective strategies to accelerate discovery to application in order to improve health. Molly Wasko, PhD, Associate Dean of Research, Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Faculty Success for the Collat School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and CCTS executive committee member, will lead the dissemination effort through a “see one, do one” Train-the-Trainer approach, designed to better support the translation of biomedical discoveries on campuses into commercially successful innovations with clinical applications. “Our goal is to improve the health of our communities by speeding up the process of moving new discoveries from our research labs into new treatments and cures for patients. We do this by helping our academic researchers 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,” says Wasko.

Wasko became an expert in the program in 2016, as project lead for the I-Corps@NCATS Pilot Program. She worked with a team of nine other medical institutions who trained 150 academic researchers organized into 62 teams, of which nine went on to form companies to commercialize their ideas. “We take academic teams with innovative research ideas and help them to discover if there is market potential for their solutions through the process of customer discovery,” shares Wasko. One such researcher is Andrew Smith, Vice Chair of Clinical Research and Professor of Radiology at UAB, and founder of AI Metrics, LLC, a startup that leverages artificial intelligence to assist with medical image interpretation and reporting. According to Smith, “The I-Corps@NCATS experience was a critical component for our customer discovery, allowing us to better direct our efforts towards what the customer really wanted rather than forcing a product of our own design to a market that may not have accepted it. My team has continued using what learned as we begin our sales cycle and enter the market.”

With the new award secured, the I-Corps@NCATS network will extend to thirteen additional, regionally-dispersed CTSA Hubs, bringing the total number of trained CTSAs to 22. The program will be accessible to investigators from any CTSA program across the country and will reach more than 1,200 academic researchers. Wasko looks forward to helping so many teams, saying “Our academic researchers are the leading experts in their science, but the program pushes them to put this expertise aside to become experts in their potential customers.”

About the CCTS: The Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) was established in 2008. The CCTS and its regional Partner Network spans Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and is dedicated to promoting health equity and reducing the disproportionate burden of disease in our communities. The Center advances impactful translational research and team science-driven investigation into new therapies and health care delivery approaches. It also supports a diverse, highly-trained clinical and translational research workforce to tackle health challenges. The CCTS is funded by a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Transactional Sciences (NCATS), National Institutes of Health, and grant UL1TR003096. The CCTS is one of more than 50 CTSA programs nationwide and the only CTSA in Alabama. For more information about the CCTS, please visit www.uab.edu/ccts.

About NCATS: The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was officially established in 2012 to transform the translational science process so that new treatments and cures for disease can be delivered to patients faster. NCATS, one of 27 Institutes and Centers (ICs) at NIH, strives to develop innovations to reduce, remove or bypass costly and time-consuming bottlenecks in the translational research pipeline in an effort to speed the delivery of new drugs, diagnostics and medical devices to patients.