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Missouri Ag Connection - 11/23/2022

More people are living longer. By 2050, 22% of the population in the United States will be over the age of 65.

Unfortunately, living longer doesn't necessarily equate with healthy aging. Older individuals often struggle with major diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and strokes. While academic researchers and biomedical companies have made great strides to improve the quality of life for the elderly, there remains a gap between academia and industry -- a disconnect that continues to slow the process of getting scientific discoveries from the researchers to the patients who need them.

The University of Missouri plans to help bridge that gap through a new program -- Biomedical Entrepreneurship Training for Aging (BETA) -- aimed at growing a scientific workforce equipped with the knowledge and real-world experience to drive innovations and commercialization of new drugs, devices and technologies to combat age-related disorders, especially Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD).

MU recently received a five-year, R25 workforce development award totaling about $700,000 from the National Institutes on Aging to help launch and operate the BETA program. Dr. Anandhi Upendran, director of Biomedical Innovations at the School of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the grant.

Beginning in January, eight graduate and postdoctoral students will comprise the first cohort of BETA recruits. The program will provide these students with comprehensive educational, immersion and experiential opportunities that will be integrated into their primary educational program and be carried out over a one-year period.

The educational and immersion training are designed in four phases -- identification of a problem, designing a solution, exploring clinical translation and pursuing business aspects.

Each phase is integrated with mini-educational courses complemented with immersion training. Participants in the clinical immersion will shadow clinicians in geriatric and neurology clinics, the Clinical Evaluation and Research in Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias lab, and in assisted living centers as well as training in an empathy learning process designed to help participants understand AD/ADRD and other aging problems. Immersion for designing a solution will involve laboratory training in drug and device development while the clinical translation immersion will provide practical experience in clinical research, regulatory approval requirements and reimbursement strategies.

During the immersion training for business, participants will work with licensing associates in the Technology Advancement Office to learn about intellectual property protection and technology transfer strategies. Finally, participants will interact and be coached by company professionals housed in the Missouri Innovation Center on how to develop business strategies and pitch their product for funding.

"We want to develop a workforce that possesses the scientific, business, regulatory and communication skills required to work effectively with academic, industrial, governmental and public affairs partners," Upendran said. "MU has outstanding programs that support entrepreneurial education."

Though BETA is housed at MU, students from the entire UM System and Lincoln University will be eligible to participate.

Upendran said the training and educational components in essential areas will hone participants' skills to identify, design, develop and translate technologies to solve unmet clinical needs in AD/ADRD. Additionally, the immersion component of the training is aimed at preparing the students for non-academic career opportunities, including licensing associates, health policy administrators, chief scientific officers of medical startup companies or research directors in pharmaceutical and medical device companies, clinical site managers, regulatory personnel and reimbursement specialists.

"This training will help these graduate students work in complex commercialization ecosystems with academic, clinical, industrial, financial and regulatory partners," Upendran said. "If they want to advance their careers, they need to know more than science. This will provide them with complimentary skills to help with product development and interface with industry and government agencies."


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