Venture Fellowships enter the second round
New therapies against liver cancer and corneal diseases, a tumor-on-chip technology for drug testing, and an AI-based tool for farmers: these are the innovation projects that have been selected for the second round of the Venture Fellowship Program at the University of Bern.
In 2021, the Venture Fellowship program of the University of Bern was established with the goal to promote the transfer of knowledge and novel technologies into economy and society. The first cohort of entrepreneurial scientists will finish their fellowship in the next couple of months. First successes have already been recorded: The spinoff project Enzoxa by Prof. Christelle Robert and Matheus Notter has just won first place in the Stage-Up competition. Felix Baier, who came third in the Stage-Up, has been able to raise funding of around CHF 800,000 with the project Caldre. And Florence von Gunten has co-founded the company YLAH AG, won a BRIDGE Proof-of-Concept Grant and brought the first private investors on board.
In fall 2022 the second round was announced and out of twelve applications received, the jury was able to support four more promising projects.
Artificial Intelligence for Agriculture
Fabian Guignard – currently postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science – is developing a tool based on artificial intelligence for farmers. It allows them to choose the optimal variety of winter wheat for their fields. While the varietal recommendations are currently the same for every farmer, the proposed innovation will allow for personalized recommendations that take local conditions, such as the weather, into account. This should help to improve the yield and quality of the harvest. The fellowship project is based on over a year of research conducted at the University of Bern in collaboration with Agroscope and with the support of the Federal Office for Agriculture, the industry organization swiss granum, as well as various private partner organizations.
Organ-on-chip technologies aim to mimic complex microenvironments, to which cells are exposed, in laboratory settings. Using an innovative tumor-on-chip technology of a new generation of in vitro models, Soheila Zeinali creates a personalized microenvironment that allows testing various drugs and drug dosages on individual tumor patient samples. This technology aims to support precision oncology in determining the most effective treatment for each patient individually. Zeinali's project is based at the ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research, from which already successful start-up companies have emerged.
New Therapy for Corneal Diseases
Miguel Ariza is the second Venture Fellow from the ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research. He is proposing a novel treatment for Keratoconus – a progressive disease that leads to thinning of the cornea and in the worst case to blindness. In collaboration with Philippe Büchler, Head of the Computational Bioengineering research group, Ariza is designing a novel minimally invasive treatment method to treat corneal refractive errors. To achieve this, he aims to develop a personalized biomechanical approach to strengthen the cornea.
Therapy for Liver Cancer
Nicolas Melin, previously Postdoc at the Department of Visceral Surgery and Medicine at the Inselspital University Hospital Bern and the University of Bern, addresses the limited efficacy of current treatments against hepatocellular carcinomas. These account for more than 80 percent of primary liver cancers worldwide. These tumors are highly aggressive, with a five-year survival rate of less than ten percent. The new approach proposed by Melin aims to significantly enhance the effectiveness of current immunotherapies, which can be highly burdensome for patients, and thereby improve their survival chances.
The Venture Fellowship Program at the University of Bern
The Venture Fellowship Program at the University of Bern enables four young researchers each year to continue their translational research for one year. The program aims to assess the technical feasibility (Proof-of-Concept) of their projects and prepare for their subsequent commercialization. The Innovation Office at the University of Bern supports them with consulting, mentoring, and networking, in cooperation with be-advanced – the startup coaching platform of the Canton of Bern. The fellowships, each endowed with CHF 100’000, are jointly funded by the University of Bern, the ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research, and the Inselspital. In addition, the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) supports the program with guided patent searches and patent landscape analyses. The next call for proposals will be published in September 2023.
The Innovation Office was established in September 2021 to further promote a dynamic culture of innovation at the University of Bern. The Innovation Office raises awareness and provides support to students, researchers, and professors regarding new ideas and inventions, thereby strengthening the transfer of innovative research to the economy and society.