Economic Transformation News

UNCC Cancer Research at the Intersection of Science and Business

From the Charlotte Business Journal:

Turning science into a business: UNCC Startup Bouyed by Grants, Five Ventures

by Bea Quirk , Contributing writer

June 17, 2011

In the beginning, Pinku Mukherjee’s research at UNC Charlotte was only about the science. But when that research uncovered a potentially more accurate way to screen for many forms of cancer, it became much more than that.

“Even if it is just a little bit better than what we have now, it’ll give some people hope,” says Mukherjee, the Irwin Belk Endowed Scholar for Cancer Research and an associate professor at UNCC. “It has the promise to be a good product to benefit patients. That’s why I’m doing it.”

Last year, she founded a business called CanDiag to commercialize her product, a blood test that could replace annual mammograms for many women.

She acknowledges facing challenges in taking the test to the marketplace. “I’m not a business person — I am a scientist,” says Mukherjee, 47, who came to UNCC from the Mayo Clinic in 2008.

So she turned to the university’s Office of Technology Transfer for assistance in further developing the product. UNCC owns the patent, while Mukherjee has the exclusive license to develop it. She has her own lab on campus with a staff of eight and will eventually rent additional space at a minimal cost at the Charlotte Research Institute.

Mukherjee’s initial work was funded by grants from sources such as the federal government and the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Now she’s looking to raise $150,000 for the next stage of her research, called a randomized trial. “You have to do the good science and show the data to document that it works,” she says.

The next step involves seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “which takes a lot more money,” she notes.

Mukherjee earned her undergraduate degree in microbiology at Bombay University in India and her master’s and Ph.D. from London University before coming to the U.S. 22 years ago.