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From the Director's Desk
PCI kicked off the new year with many of our partners at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Investment Conference in San Francisco this January.  The general tone around innovation and sustained growth in the life sciences was positive with corporate partners and investors alike seeking new technologies and opportunities from Penn. This was readily apparent at PCI’s annually hosted San Francisco event (detailed below) and other types of connections throughout the J.P. Morgan Conference week.  As PCI continues to work with Penn faculty to find pathways for their ideas to the market, we will continue to highlight emerging areas of activity at upcoming industry events and our ongoing programs.

All the best,
John S. Swartley, Associate Vice Provost for Research and Managing Director, PCI
February 2019

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Major Deal Highlights and Announcements

Epivario Launches
EpiVario, an early-stage drug discovery and development company formed by PCI Ventures in January announced it had secured an exclusive worldwide license from Penn for novel technologies and drug candidates for a wide range of memory-related psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease, and alcohol and drug addiction.  The license agreement with Penn covers patents related to the acetyl-CoA synthetase (ACSS2) gene and its role in memory-related psychiatric conditions. EpiVario and Penn also executed a sponsored research agreement which helps to support certain studies in the lab of Dr. Shelley Berger, the Daniel S. Och University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of EpiVario’s co-founders.
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FDA Announces Increased Investment in Cell & Gene Therapy
Driven by the rapid growth in market innovation and commercialization occurring in the cell and gene therapy sector, the FDA announced in January that it plans to add 50 new staffers to its clinical review group for cell and gene therapies as it anticipates a surge in new products entering the clinic and the market over the next several years.  The agency cited products now being sold by Novartis and Spark Therapeutics based on research developed at Penn as a driver of the increased focus and investment in this space moving forward. Penn and Philadelphia have reinforced their status as the center of discovery and startups in cell and gene therapy with Tmunity Therapeutics, Carisma Therapeutics, and Cabaletta Bio all launched within the past year.
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New grant programs launched to support faculty commercialization
The Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Penn recently launched two new grant programs -- Discovering the Future Grant and the Accelerating from Lab to Market Grant  -- to further support commercialization at Penn.

Discovering the Future research grants support Penn faculty conducting blue sky, high-risk/high-reward research. Grants could range up to $400k over a one- to two-year term. Grants will be targeted to creative, novel research with the potential for transformative impact within a given field. The goal of the program is to provide transition funding for exciting new research in the hopes of increasing awardees chances of receiving more sustainable funding from external sponsors.

Accelerating from Lab to Market pre-seed grants support Penn faculty developing promising inventions disclosed to the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) and to existing Penn faculty founders of University spinout companies based on Penn-owned intellectual property. Grants will generally be in the range of $10,000 to $50,000 but could be larger if justified. The goal of the program is to advance new ideas across the “valley of death” between Federal research funding and external Seed/Series A funding.

Applications for these two new programs will open on Friday February 15, 2019 at 12:00pm with a deadline of April 12 at 12:00pm. Application materials and additional information can be found at
Additional information is available at

Penn Startups: seeking Venture Capital investment
A number of Penn startups are actively raising money from Venture Capitalists and other sources.  The current list of companies can be found here. For more information about any of these companies and the funding they may be seeking please contact Michael Poisel with PCI Ventures at

Upcoming Event Highlights

For a complete events list, please visit our website
Events and Programs are open to the Penn Community and the Public.

Pennovation Center News
Avisi Technologies, last year’s winner of the President’s Innovation Prize and current Pennovation Center tenant, has been nominated for the SXSW Innovation Award, which celebrates the most forward-thinking developments in the connected world. They are among the 13 award categories finalists that will be recognized at the 2019 Innovation Awards Ceremony in Austin on Monday, March 11, 2019.

To learn more about Avisi:


Programs & Strategic Partnerships at PCI

PCI to showcase Penn Startups at the upcoming SXSW Interactive Conference in March
PCI will once again be leading Penn’s participation in the SXSW Interactive Technology Showcase in Austin, Texas this coming March, and will be coordinating Penn's partnership with Amplify Philly, which showcases Philadelphia’s innovation assets for the international audience of investors and corporate partners.

The conference provides great marketing and business development opportunities for Penn spinouts and entrepreneurs via the Penn booth, speaking opportunities at the Amplify Philly Conference, and a pitch and networking session with the Penn-Wharton Austin Alumni Group.  

The SXSW Interactive Trade Show runs from March 9-13, 2019.
For more information please contact Laurie Actman at 215-573-1981 or

Angel Venture Fair
The Angel Venture Fair (AVF), which will take place next on Friday, May 3 from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Union League, brings together the largest gathering of Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs in the Mid-Atlantic region and has showcased over 500 companies in the last 20 years. For more information:

BIO International Convention returns to Philadelphia in June

The BIO International Convention, a major international gathering of the biotechnology industry, arrives back in Philadelphia from June 4th to 6th.  PCI, in coordination with multiple partners at Penn and in Philadelphia, will be showcasing Penn’s innovation programs, technologies and startups in the life sciences space for this international audience of companies and investors.  To find out more and to participate please contact: Laurie Actman at 215-573-1981 or

Start-Up Stadium @ BIO
BIO is also providing a unique opportunity geared towards start-up and emerging companies called Start-Up Stadium.  The goal of Start-Up Stadium is to catalyze engagement between early-stage companies and large pharma and biotech companies as well as venture capital investors.  Should a company be chosen to present, they will get to pitch at the Start-Up Stadium event at the BIO International Convention, and get access to the conference and partnering system for a significantly reduced fee and compete for prizes.  Applications are due by April 5th. For more information and to apply:

Commercialization Resources and Opportunities

Apply for the Spring 2019 Penn I-Corps short course

Applications are open for the Spring 2019 Penn I-Corps short course. The short course is three-weeks long and is free to attend. Completion of the program puts teams in an excellent position to apply to the national NSF Teams program, which provides $50,000 in support and strong mentorship upon project selection and award. Participation in the National program, in turn, correlates with a 60%+ SBIR award rate.

Other benefits include participation in the annual Penn I-Corps showcase (to be held in December 2019), PCI industry marketing events, access to mentors, exposure to the Philadelphia startup ecosystem, and a grant of up to $3,000 in funding for customer discovery.

Apply now - a limited number of teams will be admitted and funding is available on a first-come basis:  

For more information and for questions please contact: Tomas Isakowitz 

Wed Mar-20 (5-9 pm): Opening workshop
Wed Mar-27 (5-9 pm): Interviewing workshop
Wed Apr-03: Individual office hours (1/2 hr. TBD during the week)
Wed Apr-17 (5-9 pm):  Closing workshop

Pennvention Applications now Open
Pennvention is Penn's premier tech innovation competition held each spring since its inaugural event in 2005. Competitors will pitch their idea, develop an MVP or a new product feature, receive help from outstanding mentors, and potential win over $20,000 in prizes.

Apply to the first round here! The deadline to submit your application is Feb. 15, 2019. To be eligible for consideration, your team must provide a 5-slide deck summarizing your startup idea. Direct any questions to

PCI and Commercialization News

Past Event Highlight
PCI promotes partnerships and technologies in San Francisco

The Penn Center for Innovation and Wharton San Francisco hosted more than 300 investors, corporate partners and Penn alumni for a program entitled Innovation@Penn: Programs and Partnerships during the recent J.P. Morgan Healthcare Investor Conference in San Francisco the first week of January.  PCI's 4th annual event provided an opportunity to further market and build interest in Penn’s portfolio of innovative activities and technologies emerging across campuses.

A keynote discussion featuring Melinda Richter (Global Head, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS) and Craig R. Carnaroli (Executive Vice President, University of Pennsylvania) was moderated by John Swartley (Managing Director, PCI). The discussion highlighted Penn’s new partnership at the Pennovation Center with the opening of the JPOD. The fireside session was followed by a panel of Penn's neuroscientific innovators and startups including:
  • Kacy Cullen, PhD, Research Associate Professor Of Neurosurgery
  • Michael Platt, PhD, James S. Riepe University Professor
  • Dan Rizzuto, PhD, Founder & CEO, Nia Therapeutics
  • Steven Kelly, President and Chief Executive Officer of Carisma Therapeutics
See pictures from the event and video of the program
Featured Technology of the Month

Single viral vector for expression of both CAR/TCR and immune modulators for cancer immunotherapy
Tech Licensing Officer: Benning Wang
Inventors:  Daniel Powell, Anze Smole, Avery Posey
(Tech ID: 17-8348)


Adoptive cancer immunotherapy, like chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR T) therapy, has had extraordinary clinical outcomes in the treatment of certain blood cancers. However, challenges remain due to safety risks such as cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and off-tumor toxicities. Targeting solid tumors is challenging due to immunosuppressive mechanisms and a hostile tumor microenvironment. Therefore, more advanced engineered T cells are necessary to improve targeting, localization, and autonomous regulation in hopes of overcoming the immunosuppression of the microenvironment to improve the efficacy and safety of cancer immunotherapy.

Dr. Powell and colleagues have developed a novel, broadly-applicable all-in-one lentiviral system with highly optimized transcriptional elements that allow multiple functionalities to be produced simultaneously and specifically in response to contact with tumor antigen.  This platform combines a constitutively expressed immune receptor (CAR/TCR) with an immunomodulatory effector molecule whose expression can be autonomously triggered by immune receptor signaling or the tumor microenvironment. This technology facilitates efficient and localized expression of effector molecules, potentially augmenting the treatment efficacy and limiting toxicities of adoptive cancer immunotherapy. Further, compared to current two-vector systems for transducing multiple transgenes, delivery of a single vector encoding constitutively and inducible expressed modules improves transduction efficiency, homogeneity of cell product and eliminates screening steps providing improved engineered T-cell manufacturing work-flows, shorter manufacturing timelines, and reduced manufacturing costs.

Quarterly Patents

Please find a list of Penn awarded patents for the second quarter of FY2019 here:

New Employees

Please join us in welcoming the following new PCI staff members. You can find contact information for all PCI employees on our webpage.

Kiran Matsko
Associate Director, Corporate Contracts

Michael Hartman
Associate Director, Corporate Contracts

Interested in joining the PCI Team? Please visit our Careers page to see current openings

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