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By Liz Warren-Pederson

Biomedical engineering doctoral candidate Xenia Kachur, with sanofi-aventis's Paul Eynott (left) and McGuire Center mentor-in- residence Emre Toker (right).

Biomedical engineering doctoral candidate
Xenia Kachur, with sanofi-aventis’s Paul
Eynott (left) and McGuire Center mentor-in-
residence Emre Toker (right).

Third-year doctoral student Xenia Kachur — whose focus is biomedical engineering — topped the Innovation in Research Competition at theIdeaFunding 2010 conference in October. The competition was sponsored by the Early-to-Candidate (E2C) Unit of Global Research and Development at sanofi-aventis, US.  

Two local entrepreneurs and members of Southern Arizona investor group Desert Angels, along withPaul August, Ph.D. (US head, E2C Unit), judged the research abstracts during the event. The competition challenged participants to put forward brief abstracts describing translational research that offered potential solutions for patient treatment. “My research fit their description, so I developed a proposal,” Kachur said.

IdeaFunding showcased Twelve finalists. Participants were judged not only on how innovative the science was, but also on personal and visual presentation, and the ability to address questions from the reviewers.

Kachur’s research into nano-scale drug delivery for cancer therapy formed the basis of her entry into the competition. “I was already planning to attend IdeaFunding as a student of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship,” she explained. “Then my doctoral advisor forwarded information about the competition and supported my participation.”

Kachur’s research is also the starting point of the venture being developed by her team in McGuire Entrepreneurship Program — an enterprise that may get a boost from her success in the competition.

“I’ve always had a leaning toward business,” Kachur said, “but it was the sort of thing I thought I’d learn as I went along.” She holds an undergraduate degree in microbiology from Northern Arizona University, and started out pre-med, but it wasn’t the right fit. “Then I attended a biomedical engineering seminar, and it was voila!”

On November 18, Kachur received a $4,000 cash prize, a personal letter from Leslie Tolbert (vice president for research, University of Arizona) congratulating the team, and an award from sanofi-aventis, US.

Paul Eynott, Ph.D. (US head, Partnering and Innovation, E2C Unit) presented the award. “Our mission is to embrace and encourage young entrepreneurs such as Xenia and her team as part of the process of increasingly gaining access to early stage inventions — such as small molecules, biologics, and/or novel delivery devices — with early stage intellectual property, unclear market potential, and therefore risk,” he said. “These inventions require de-risking through optimization and expertise from multiple domain experts, which collectively act as a catalyst in converting inventions into true innovations with valid intellectual property, clear value proposition, and the right commercial trajectory.” Eynott is also an advisory board member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and an affiliate faculty member in the Departments of Pharmacy and Physiology at the University of Arizona.

“The McGuire program is a fantastic opportunity,” Kachur said. “When I thought about business and entrepreneurship before the program, it seemed daunting, but now I am learning the tools I need. Our mentors in particular have given us so many opportunities to make connections and meet people, and are really able to put things into perspective.”

It’s through the program that Kachur and her teams were able to connect with angel investors and industry representatives at IdeaFunding. For his part, team mentor-in-residence Emre Toker said, “Xenia is our shining star entrepreneurship Ph.D. student. We are all immensely proud of her and have the highest hopes for her future as an entrepreneurial scientist.”

sanofi-aventis, US has no stake in the intellectual property.