Winners of NovaUCD’s 2023 Innovation Awards Revealed

31 March 2023

NovaUCD has today announced the recipients of its annual innovation awards which highlight successes made in areas of knowledge transfer, consultancy, entrepreneurship and the promotion of an innovation culture, by members of the UCD research, innovation and entrepreneurial community.

A total of 7 Awards, including the main 2023 NovaUCD Innovation Award, were presented by Professor Mark Rogers, Acting UCD President during an event held in the UCD University Club.

Among this year’s awardees are the founders of Aer Therapeutics, DOCOsoft and seamlessCARE and the inventor of a vaccine candidate for Melioidosis, a potentially fatal tropical disease, which has been licensed to Poolbeg Pharma.

Professor Mark Rogers, Acting UCD President said, “The NovaUCD Innovation Awards are a key annual event at UCD recognising and highlighting successes achieved by our research, innovation and entrepreneurial communities across the University and I congratulate all those who have received awards. I would also like to take the opportunity of wishing them ongoing success in the future as they continue to deliver economic and societal impact through their commercialisation, consultancy, entrepreneurial and innovation activities.”

The 2023 NovaUCD Innovation Award, which recognises excellence in innovation or of successes achieved in the commercialisation of UCD research or other intellectual activity over a number of years, was awarded to Professor Stefan Oscarson, UCD School of Chemistry and Professor Stephen Carrington who retired from the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine in 2016.

They received the Award in recognition of their successful and longstanding research collaboration with Professor John Fahy, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The focus of this collaboration was understanding why mucus in the lungs of people with respiratory diseases is thick, sticky and difficult to cough up and to develop new treatment strategies to help such patients breathe more easily.

The UCD-UCSF research collaboration led to the filing of a patent application for a novel mucolytic drug to address a large unmedical need for patients with mucus-associated lung diseases. These diseases include, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), asthma, cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis. 

In addition Aer Therapeutics, the first joint UCD-UCSF spin-out company, was founded by Professor Oscarson and Professor Fahy, and Jim Shaffer, an experienced biotech executive, was recently recruited as CEO.

The company, which is headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, licensed the patented novel mucolytic drug in 2022 and recently closed a significant funding round. The funding will enable initial safety studies in patients and a proof-of-concept clinical trial in patients with COPD.

Professor Stefan Oscarson said, "It’s really exciting times for me now, when after more than 40 years of academic research involving drug and vaccine development, seeing an excellent and fun team effort leading to the possibility of a lead candidate going into human clinical trials. It feels great to receive the NovaUCD Innovation Award with Steve as a recognition of this achievement."

Professor Oscarson and Professor Carrington began collaborating with Professor Fahy in 2010.

The UCSF and UCD research collaboration was broadened to include Anne Marie Healy, Professor of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Technology, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, TCD and adjunct Professor, UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering. Together this UCD/TCD/UCSF team secured $20 million in funding from the US National Institutes of Health to enable preclinical development of the patented mucolytic drug.

The recipient of the 2023 NovaUCD Invention of the Year Award is Dr Joseph Sweeney, a research fellow in the UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering.

He received this Award in recognition of disruptive biosensors which have been developed by him and his research team. The biosensors are based on genetically engineered bacteria, in combination with a dissolved oxygen probe, and can identify the concentrations of specific organic analytes within bioprocesses in real-time. Under the current design, this invention, which has been patented, consists of a number of automated biosensors each dedicated to identify and measure a specific analyte, including sugars and volatile fatty acids, in real-time.

This platform technology has commercial applications in a number of industrial bioprocessing sectors to improve the efficiency in bioprocessing operations. These include, green biorefineries, anaerobic digestion, food and drink processing, precision fermentation and other fermentation sectors and water and wastewater treatment.

On receiving the 2023 NovaUCD Invention of the Year Award, Dr Sweeney said, “I am very grateful to be presented with this Award. It has been a long road bringing the disruptive automated biosensors to the point where they now have several commercial applications to improve the efficiency in bioprocessing operations in industrial settings.

It would not have been possible without the invaluable input from my UCD colleagues, Professor Kevin McDonnell and Professor Cormac Murphy over the last 10 years. I would also like to acknowledge the support of NovaUCD knowledge transfer team in driving the commercial application of the invention.”    

The recipient of the 2023 NovaUCD Licence of the Year Award is Associate Professor Siobhán McClean, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, whose research interests focus on understanding bacteria that cause lung infections.

Last year Poolbeg Pharma signed an exclusive licence agreement with UCD through NovaUCD, for a late preclinical stage vaccine candidate for Melioidosis, a potentially fatal tropical disease, invented by Associate Professor McClean and her team. There is no current approved vaccine available for Melioidosis.

Melioidosis is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, commonly found in the soil and surface groundwater of many tropical and subtropical regions. With an estimated 165,000 cases each year globally, Melioidosis causes a diverse range of symptoms including pneumonia and severe sepsis with multiple organ abscesses, and is associated with a fatality rate of up to 45%.

Melioidosis is widespread in South-East Asia, Northern Australia and India, but the warming climate is having a substantial impact on the spread of the disease to new areas such as Brazil and traditionally non-tropical areas.

The Melioidosis vaccine candidate is being developed by Poolbeg as POLB 003.

Associate Professor McClean completed some of the original research to identify the antigens associated with the Melioidosis vaccine candidate at TU Dublin and she was a recipient of a Wellcome Trust Award to aid its development at UCD.

The recipient of the 2023 NovaUCD Spin-out of the Year Award is seamlessCARE, a digital health start-up. seamlessCARE is focused on developing and rolling-out innovative assistive technologies to enhance communication and support the care of adults and children with complex needs such as autism, acquired brain injury, dementia, and intellectual disability.

The company was founded in 2021 by Dr Aviva Cohen, Ian Kennedy and Dr Çağrı Çubukçu as a spin-out from the UCD School Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

In the last year seamlessCARE launched Empathic its first app and API, which uses artificial intelligence to interpret the emotions being expressed by non-verbal individuals as they vocalise. In addition the company secured €700,000 in seed funding from angel investor and former HSE chairman Dr Frank Dolphin and Enterprise Ireland, located at NovaUCD, grew the team to six people and established a branch in Turkey to facilitate the direct hire of development personnel.

On receiving the 2023 NovaUCD Spin-out of the Year Award, Dr Aviva Cohen, CEO and co-founder, seamlessCARE said, “The team at NovaUCD has provided mentorship, guidance, training and a host of fantastic supports. We are grateful for their help and proud to receive this Award.”

The recipient of the 2023 NovaUCD Founder of the Year Award is Aidan O’Neill, founder and CEO, DOCOsoft, an insurance technology company headquartered at NexusUCD. DOCOsoft is an innovative provider of claims management solutions for the global property and casualty (P&C) insurance and reinsurance markets.

Since it was established in 2008 DOCOsoft has become a leading provider of state-of-the-art claims management solutions for the Lloyd’s insurance market in London and the global P&C insurance and reinsurance markets.

Many of the largest insurance companies in the world rely on DOCOsoft solutions to manage their core claims in the London Market. At present, around half of all claims processed in the London Market, including Lloyd’s, go through one of DOCOsoft’s claims systems, which manage some £12 billion in premium income per year and result in up to 50% reduction in claims-handling turnaround time for clients.

In recent years the company, which is 100% self-funded, has been scaling rapidly in terms of number of employees and operational capacity. Staff numbers have almost trebled since 2020 and the company currently employs nearly 80 people with turnover growing at an annual rate of over 25%.

DOCOsoft plans to add 30 additional employees in the coming year and is also currently finalising a development programme to build out its next generation cloud claims system which will be ready to launch later this year and which has been part funded by an Enterprise Ireland R&D Innovation grant.

The recipient of the 2023 NovaUCD Consultancy of the Year Award is Dr Stephen Davis, UCD School of Archaeology. In recent years Dr Davis has carried out 12 consultancy projects, through ConsultUCD, using ALS (Airborne Laser Scanning), also known as LiDAR analysis, for multiple County Councils across Ireland.

In these projects he has used LiDAR data to detect archaeological features in the landscape where Councils/Transport Infrastructure Ireland have planned to construct new roads or motorways, or as part of Council-led heritage projects.

These projects identified many hundreds of potential archaeological features that might otherwise have been impacted, providing advance warning to road construction projects of potential impacts. This has enabled construction companies and County Councils to understand the impact of their locally planned projects and to adjust their plans as required.

The recipient of the 2023 NovaUCD Innovation Champion of the Year Award is Dr Eoin O'Cearbhaill, Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. Dr O'Cearbhaill is co-Director of the UCD BE and ME Biomedical Engineering programmes and is also the Director of the UCD Centre for Biomedical Engineering and a funded investigator with the SFI Research Centres, Cúram, I-Form and Amber.

Dr O’Cearbhaill is focused on the translation of medical devices from concept through to clinical use and his research interests include; medical device innovation, design and commercialisation, particularly minimally invasive devices and delivery systems.

Since joining UCD in 2013, Dr O’Cearbhaill has been championing the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship within his Research Centre, School and College.  Through his research group he has supported multiple research teams, over many years, to complete NovaUCD commercialisation programmes, including the UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator. These include Latch Medical, a UCD spin-out headquartered at NovaUCD, along with emerging UCD start-ups, Lia Therapeutics and LaNua Medical, both of which are currently fund raising.

Source: NovaUCD