UNC-Chapel Hill team wins chance to compete for top brain challenge prize with plan to transform schizophrenia diagnosis and treatment

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UNC-Chapel Hill team wins chance to compete for top brain challenge prize with plan to transform schizophrenia diagnosis and treatment


(Chapel Hill, N.C.—July 6, 2015) – A team of UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students was among 13 winners of the Neuro Startup Challenge, an open innovation competition designed to bring promising medical inventions to market. Winning teams were selected based on their business plans, financial models and live pitches. The competition was organized by the Heritage Provider Network (HPN) in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI).


The UNC-Chapel Hill team’s project, called NeuroNostix, is a sophisticated diagnostic tool for determining personalized treatment plans for patients suffering from schizophrenia. The team will now move forward to phase three of the challenge, which is designed to launch new businesses to commercialize 16 NIH-conceived and developed inventions.  These inventions include therapeutics, diagnostics, prognostics and medical devices designed to improve brain health.


“We are very excited to hear that NeuroNostix was selected as a winner of the Neuro Startup Challenge and that they plan to pursue commercialization through the formation of a new startup company,” said Jason Doherty, Ph.D., director of the startup-consulting program at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. “The Challenge offered a good platform for teaching the students about the process of technology commercialization and new venture creation. We look forward to continuing to mentor NeuroNostix through its next phases of development.”


More than 578 students and entrepreneurs in 70 teams competed in the challenge, which began in August 2014. The UNC-Chapel Hill team members are enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, a program developed by the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, and Carolina KickStart. Each team worked on one of the challenge technologies and built a business case for the first semester, producing a short video describing the commercial opportunity of the technology.


A subset of students went into the second semester and developed a business plan for the most promising technologies. The teams competed in two phases and were mentored by experts to produce business plans, financial models and live pitches. A team led by Colleen O’Neil, a Ph.D. candidate in analytical chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill, won for their project titled “Novel Dopamine D2 Receptor Antagonists and Methods of Their Use.”


“At this point we are a crossroads in our product development, where we need to decide whether to develop a diagnostic to enable more personalized treatment for patients or to develop a better therapeutic with less side effects“,” said O’Neil. “No matter which road we take, NeuroNostix stands to improve the lives of patients with schizophrenia and reduce costs to the healthcare system at large.”


In the final phase of the competition, the winning teams will receive additional mentoring in how to launch their startup, incorporate their business, apply for licensing and execute development and regulatory requirements, all with the hope of bringing their product to market.


“Being involved in the competition has been an enlightening experience,” said Anthony Arceci, a Ph.D. candidate in genetics and molecular biology who is also part of the NeuroNostix team. “As part of our normal, day-to-day activities in the lab you are rarely exposed to entrepreneurial activities, although you are aware that a sizable portion of people with the same training end up in business-related professions. This challenge has provided us with a sneak-peak into the world of entrepreneurship and has helped us develop some skills that we wouldn’t have acquired otherwise.”


For more information on the challenge, please go to http://www.neurostartupchallenge.org/.


About Carolina KickStart:

Carolina KickStart is a part of the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, home to the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program at UNC. The Carolina KickStart Award Program promotes entrepreneurship on the UNC campus by supporting the commercialization of innovations in the life science, biomedical and pharmaceutical fields.




About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 78 bachelor’s, 112 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty, staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in all 100 counties. Carolina’s 304,000-plus alumni live in all 50 states and 150 countries, and more than 159,000 live in North Carolina.


Video on NeuroNostix: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b7MilSn0_w&feature=youtu.be


NC TraCS Institute contact: Michele Maclay, (919) 843-5365, maclay@med.unc.edu


Communications and Public Affairs Contact: Helen Buchanan, (919) 445-8555, helenb@unc.edu