issue Winter 2023

RFU Celebrates Research Innovation, Partnerships

By Sara Skoog
Dr. Kaplan with School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Dean Joseph X. DiMario, PhD.
Photo by Michael R. Schmidt

The university hosted its inaugural Biomedical Innovation Day on Sept. 22 to celebrate the research efforts of RFU faculty and the early-stage companies comprising RFU’s Helix 51 bioscience incubator. This new event highlighted the cutting-edge discoveries happening at RFU and the importance of industry-academic collaborations in translating those discoveries into desperately-needed medications and diagnostics.

“Our goal is to support our community, support industry and to support our basic scientists, who can see how their discoveries can be translated into therapeutics for patients,” President Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, DipACLM, told the audience of 120+ in-person and virtual participants. “Our commitment to improving wellness hinges on these strategic partnerships that encourage investment and drive innovation.”

“The companies that we bring in, we curate them for potential collaboration with our faculty researchers. We’re interested in companies doing R&D that relates to some significant portion of our faculty-research profile,” said Ronald Kaplan, PhD, RFU’s executive vice president for research, as he outlined the day’s events for the audience. “As most of you know, an incubator isn’t just a space; it is all sorts of programming and support to help these companies be successful.”

“An incubator isn’t just a space; it is all sorts of programming and support to help these companies be successful.”

Spearheading the creation of Biomedical Innovation Day were Connie Cleary, DPM, director of innovation and industry relations, and Michael Rosen, MBA, managing director of RFU’s Innovation and Research Park and Helix 51 Incubator. They developed a robust program for the daylong event that showcased the work of RFU’s established and newly recruited research faculty, as well as the Helix 51 companies and the industry experts who advise them.

“Part of the event’s success was the active participation by members of our External Advisory Council,” said Mr. Rosen. “This is a group composed of industry leaders, venture capitalists, private foundations and Chicagoland economic development executives, including AbbVie, Horizon Therapeutics, the Walder Foundation, Aptinyx, Venture Investors and the Chicago Biomedical Consortium.”

Inaugural Biomedical Innovation Day Highlights

Niels Emmerich, PhD, vice president, Global Head Search and Evaluation at AbbVie, kicked off the event with the morning keynote address, “The Role of Academic-Industry Partnerships in Biomedical Innovations.” Paul Weiss, PhD, partner, Venture Investors, delivered the afternoon keynote address on “The Role of Midwest VCs Funding New Biomedical Innovations.” The daylong, in-person and virtual event also featured presentations from established and newer members of RFU’s research faculty, and panel discussions moderated by members of the university’s Innovation and Research Park External Advisory Council.

Representatives from companies housed in the Helix 51 Incubator participated in one of three Company Tracks based on specialty — oncology, infectious diseases/allergens, and cardiovascular, fibrotic diseases and fibromyalgia. Each company provided an overview of their research conducted in the incubator, followed by Q&A sessions with the audience.

Sara Skoog is a staff writer with RFU’s Division of Marketing and Brand Management. In addition to writing for Helix and other university publications, she also produces Pulse, RFU’s monthly e-newsletter.