Bertarelli Foundation President’s Innovation Challenge Fund at Harvard Business School

The Bertarelli Foundation is pleased to announce that through its gift to Harvard University, the Bertarelli Foundation President’s Innovation Challenge Fund has been established at Harvard Business School.

Established in 2012, the President’s Innovation Challenge was established to encourage members of the Harvard community to engage with issues facing the world and to spark the creative development of solutions that will address vexing social, medical, and scientific problems. In 2017, more than 200 student teams from across Harvard University competed in the Challenge.

In 2013, the Bertarelli Foundation funded the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge at the Harvard i-lab. This new commitment to the President’s Innovation Challenge Fund will extend the Bertarelli Foundation’s generosity to a broader range of early stage ventures and enable creative ideas to flourish at Harvard and beyond. In recognition of this new gift, the winners of the President’s Innovation Challenge will be awarded Bertarelli Foundation Prizes each year for the next five years.

“We are delighted to support the President’s Innovation Challenge Fund, building once again on our existing relationship with Harvard”, said Ernesto Bertarelli. “Our aim is to help Harvard find and support the next generation of entrepreneurs with bold ideas and the commitment to see those become reality. With the support of the remarkable community of teachers and innovators at the School, I am confident this Fund will continue to help fuse the scientific vision and the passion for business that Harvard inspires amongst its students.”

“Whether it’s the development of safe and affordable surgical kits that are easily transportable to places in need of medical resources, a venture working to accelerate advances in artificial intelligence, or the scores of other projects that have been part of the President’s Innovation Challenge, the program has helped unleash the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of the Harvard community,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “Making progress toward solutions to global problems requires new thinking that transcends boundaries and disciplines, and we are very grateful to the Bertarelli Foundation for the vision and generosity they have shown in their support of this community of innovators dedicated to that task.”

“We see countless examples of the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in finding solutions to society’s most intractable challenges,” said Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria. “The Bertarelli Foundation’s generous gift will fuel the entrepreneurial spirit that exists across the University by ensuring that students have the resources to bring their game-changing ideas to fruition.”



A conversation with Giffin Daughtridge, winner of the 2017 Bertarelli Prize

Giffin Daughtridge, MD is the co-founder and CEO of UrSure, a venture he started with Dr. Helen Koenig at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, and winner of the 2017 Bertarelli Prize.  Giffin kindly made time to let us know how the iLab and the Bertarelli Prize have helped him achieve his goal of reducing the spread of HIV.

How is UrSure tackling the spread of HIV?

We’re developing tests that let doctors monitor whether their patients are adhering to their PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) regimens. Whilst PrEP only requires a single oral dose per day to be 99% effective at preventing HIV, studies have shown that over the course of a year, adherence to even simple drug regimens can fall to as low as 20 to 50%.  Until recently the only way for clinicians to determine adherence of their patients to PrEP was through self-reporting – a notoriously un-reliable method.

Why is it important to know whether patients are taking their PrEP Medication?

Missing doses can seriously reduce the protection provided to the patient and could lead them to contract HIV.  It’s important for clinicians – and patients – to know that they are protected from infection.

UrSure is developing two tests which will give clinicians an accurate assessment of their patients’ adherence.  The first is a lab-based urine test which provides a quantitative indication of the level of PrEP medication in the patient’s system.  Whilst this is an important tool, it does not give an immediate result.  It also requires the patient to meet with their clinician on another occasion to discuss their test results.  For some patients with chaotic or busy lifestyles, this is a huge hurdle.

We were keen therefore to develop a cheaper test which gives an immediate, albeit binary, result.  We are developing a ‘point-of-care’ urine dip-test, similar to a pregnancy test, which tells clinicians whether their patient is taking their medication.

How did you realise there was need to develop this new test?

I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011 and went to Colombia on a Fulbright research scholarship. While there, I started a vaccination clinic for sex workers.  After a year I moved back to the US and met Dr. Helen Koenig, an infectious disease physician, who was starting a PrEP clinic in Philadelphia, PA.  In our clinic, we realised very quickly that we didn’t know with any confidence whether our patients were taking their medication – in fact, one of our patients contracted HIV, something which would not have happened if he were taking his medication as prescribed.

Helen and I started to think about how this test might be administered.  We didn’t want to develop another blood test for this group of patients and instead decided to see if a patient-friendly urine test might be the way forward.

In 2015 we incorporated UrSure Inc. in order to allow us to apply for a Small Business Innovation Research grant and to other funding streams.  I quickly realised that in order for UrSure to be a success I couldn’t run the company and complete my residency – so I decided to work on UrSure on a full-time basis after graduating medical and policy school.

How has winning the Bertarelli Prize helped UrSure develop?

For Helen and I it has been a game-changer by helping us accelerate the development of our products.  The prize of $75,000 USD, along with other prizes and funding we’ve been able to secure since, will help us develop our point-of-care test and overcome legal and regulatory hurdles that exist to new products entering the marketplace.

But the iLab Challenge is about more than just the prize fund.  Harvard’s iLab provides an incredible place to learn and develop a complete business plan.  When I started in October 2015, I had no idea how to start a company, I knew nothing about business, how to scale-up or how to create a financial model – but the great thing is, the iLab has plenty of people who do.  I sincerely believe that UrSure wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the entire iLab ecosystem – the facilities, the Challenge and the Bertarelli Prize.

What’s next for UrSure?

Now that our clinical test has been validated, we’re working with commercial laboratories to have doctors, patients and insurance companies start using the test.  Ultimately, we want to scale up so we are providing tests for as many PrEP patients as possible – there are over 100,000 in the US alone.

We’re continuing to develop our Point of Care urine test and we hope to have that ready for our clinical trials by 2018.

UrSure Inc. win the 2017 Bertarelli Prize at Harvard University’s iLab

For the last several years, the Bertarelli Foundation has proudly sponsored Harvard University’s Innovation Lab.  More specifically, we have provided the Bertarelli Prize, which is awarded to the winner of the ‘Health & Life Science Track’ in the annual President’s Innovation Challenge.

The Innovation Challenge supports Harvard students on their journey to turn their desire for a better world into a sustainable venture. This year’s finalists responded to the desperate need for innovation within the health and life sciences industry, as well as solve social issues (equitability, sustainability and safety), and also innovate in other areas that transcend the Challenge categories.

This year, more than 200 student teams applied to participate in the Innovation Challenge with the finalists being selected by a committee of more than 150 judges with a wide array of industry experiences.

In March, five finalists were selected for the 2017 Bertarelli Prize:

  • Day Zero Diagnostics combines genome sequencing and machine learning to modernise infectious disease diagnosis.
  • GEMS Samaritan Stations has developed a smart devices that reduces emergency response time by turning bystanders into first responders when every second counts.
  • Jane Diagnostics has produced an innovative, low-cost, accurate, rapid, and easy-to-use HPV diagnostic chip for early detection of cervical cancer.
  • Nanoshear has created a nanotechnology-based liquid embolic agent for immediate haemorrhage control in vascular injuries and bleeding patients.
  • UrSure Inc. prevents HIV by focusing on protecting vulnerable populations from infection.

Given the exceptional quality of all the finalists, it was a very difficult decision for the prize judges to select the winners; ultimately however, UrSure Inc. was awarded the Bertarelli Prize of $75,000 and Jane Diagnostics were awarded the runner-up prize of $25,000.

The team behind UrSure are no strangers to the Bertarelli Prize, having participated in the competition in 2016.  In the year which followed, Giffin Daughtridge and Helen Koenig were able to refine both their product and their business plan and ultimately impress the prize judges.

Ernesto Bertarelli commented:

I’d like to congratulate all the finalists and entrants for the Bertarelli Prize.  I’m confident that by taking part in the Challenge over the last year, you will have refined your business ideas and embraced the entrepreneurial spirit which is so important if you are to succeed in your ambition.

I’m delighted that Giffin and Helen of UrSure Inc. have been able to develop such an important medical tool which shows great promise in helping to reduce HIV infection.  I will watch the development of their company very carefully.

UrSure’s CEO and founder Giffin Daughtridge, commented:

Winning the Bertarelli Prize is an absolute game-changer for us.  We had enough funding to get through the next couple of months, but this will help us accelerate our timeline.


2017 Bertarelli Neuroscience Symposium

Friday 7th of April saw the sixth annual Symposium of the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuronengineering take place at Campus Biotech in Geneva. Bringing together the five Bertarelli teams from EPFL and Harvard Medical School, the Symposium provides an opportunity for progress to be shared, for ideas to be discussed and for plans to be made for further collaboration. Encouraging achievements, including findings yet to be published, were presented for each of the projects, which are addressing hearing loss, macula degeneration and motion-corrected fMRI for children with autism.

As well as the talks from the five Bertarelli teams, the audience heard from five former inspirational Bertarelli Fellows – students from EPFL who had, as part of the Education component of the Program, had spent a year in Boston conducting Master’s research with an HMS-affiliated laboratory – about their experiences and work. There were also four highly engaging keynote speakers who addressed topics in and around the theme of this year’s Symposium: Perception, Learning and Memory (Neuroengineering Persepectives). Harvard’s Margaret Livingstone spoke about modules in the brain and how they develop for our vision perception, while New York University’s Cristina Alberini presented her work on molecular mechanisms of long-term memory storage, in particular the role of the IGF-2 (Insulin-life Growth Factor) protein, previously unknown as having a role in neurobiology. They were followed by EPFL’s Johannes Gräff, who shared his lab’s work in the emerging field of neuroepigenetics and its potential implications for long-term memory storage, particularly for those with Alzheimer’s Disease and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Finally, UPenn’s Michael Kahana gave fascinating insight into his work using mathematical modelling and computational techniques to study memory.

The Symposium drew to a close with words from EPFL’s President, Martin Vetterli, who spoke about how it was fitting that the Symposium was being held at Campus Biotech, a “fertile ground for interactions” and a “toy store for scientists.” He was followed by an impassioned speech from Sir Jackie Stewart, who urged those present to continue their drive to increase knowledge, to further progress in neuroscience, and to ensure that the next generation of scientists are given the teaching and the tools to solve the brain’s mysteries and illnesses, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, an issue about which he actively campaigns. Lastly, Kirsty Bertarelli gave thanks on behalf of the Bertarelli Foundation to all who participated in the Symposium and to all who had combined to make it such a success.

Speaking afterwards, Ernesto Bertarelli said:

“This Symposium, at which our teams of scientists join together to share their work, is a demonstration of the mission of the Bertarelli Program as a whole: To foster collaboration, across continents and across disciplines. As with every Symposium we hold, to hear in person the extraordinary progress being made across our joint projects is to be hugely encouraged and I – and everyone in the room at Campus Biotech – left with great hope for what is being achieved now and what will be achieved in the future.”

Aldatu Biosciences is helping to overcome HIV drug resistance

After winning the Bertarelli Prize in 2014, Aldatu Biosciences has continued developing their PANDAA technology which aims to improve HIV patient care by detecting antiretroviral drug resistance.  Since then, others have also recognised Aldatu’s potential and they were awarded the Verizon Powerful Answers Award and in 2015 awarded a Direct-to-Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant for approximately $1,500,000 over two years.

Co-founders, David Raiser and Iain MacLeod, travelled to Botswana to meet researchers at the Harvard AIDS Institute.  We went with them to find out how the Bertarelli Prize helped their businesses grow and how their technology might help HIV patients ensure they are receiving the correct treatment.

Herald win the 2016 Bertarelli Prize at Harvard’s iLab

Each year, the Harvard i-lab holds the Deans’ Health & Life Sciences Challenge to encourage cross-disciplinary innovation and to solve some of the world’s toughest health problems.

The year’s five finalists were selected to present their business ideas at the i-lab Demo Day on Wednesday, 4th May, and compete in the final stage of the competition for the Bertarelli Prize.

Herald, whose healthcare software offers clinicians real-time access to clinical data, won the Bertarelli prize of $30,000 and the chance to incubate their idea in the Harvard i-lab through the summer. The company’s chief executive, Brad Diephuis, is an MD/MBA candidate, a dual degree that prepares graduates for a career in healthcare management and finance.

Pykus Therapeutics, a new company which makes a dissolvable device that doctors inject into a patient’s eye to make retinal surgery less painful, was selected as the Challenge’s first-runner up. They received $25,000 prize and summertime access to the i-lab incubator.

LuminOva takes great strides tackling infertility

In 2015, LuminOva, a biotech start-up company based in Boston MA., won the Bertarelli Prize at Harvard University’s iLab.  The prize is awarded annually as part of the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge which encourages nascent businesses to develop and grow towards commercialisation.

Whilst many businesses enter the Challenge each year and benefit from the mentoring, workshops and judging process, only one can win the Bertarelli Prize.  Providing a welcome stamp approval, the Prize also comes with a substantial financial award which catapults the businesses forward and helps them to overcome barriers and hurdles to their success.

LuminOva is developing a new technology which could help infertile couples select the best embryos for IVF treatment.  Whilst still undergoing clinical trials, winning the Bertarelli Prize has accelerated  the development of the company and will hopefully bring their product to market more quickly – and in so doing, help people achieve their dream of becoming parents.

The finalists for the 2016 Bertarelli Prize are announced by Harvard’s iLab

The 2016 Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge at Harvard’s iLab is nearing its final stages as the finalists for this year’s competition have been announced.  From over 60 applicants, five student-led teams have been selected, one of which will be awarded the Bertarelli Prize on May 4th.

This year’s finalists are:

  • Antera produces an all-natural solution formulated to safely reduce the risk of peanut allergy development in infants.
  • Buoy creates a simple and safe way to understand your symptoms, answer questions about your illness, and get an assessment of possible causes.
  • Herald makes healthcare safer by offering clinicians real-time access to clinical data exactly when and how they want it.
  • Pykus Therapeutics develops a dissolvable intraocular device to make retinal surgery less painful and more successful.
  • Searna Technologies provides uniquely sensitive and affordable molecular diagnostics for the non-invasive detection of cancer.

The Bertarelli Foundation is delighted to support the iLab and the Deans’ Challenge; since its inception in 2014, over 100 nascent student-led teams have been mentored towards commercialising their business ideas in the health and life science sector.

The previous winners have already had a huge impact in improving human health around the world.  Aldatu Biosciences, the 2014 winners, have developed a diagnostic test for HIV drug resistance which is being trialed in Botswana, a country with an historically very high prevalence of drug-resistance.  And LuminOva, the 2015 winners, are commercialising a method of detecting the viability of human embryos to increase the probability of successful invitro-fertilisation.

LuminOva wins the 2015 Bertarelli Prize with their groundbreaking IVF tool

The culmination of the academic year at Harvard University’s iLab is the awarding of the Bertarelli Prize to the winner of the Dean’s Health and Life Sciences Challenge.  This year it was the turn of LuminOva to walk away with the prestigious award and a cheque for $40,000.

LuminOva was formed to address the problem of infertility which affects 15 per cent. of couple around the world and the relatively low success rates of current IVF treatment.  LuminOva’s technology is non-invasive diagnostic techniques which is able to  assess eggs and embryos in terms of the quality and viability.  LuminOva’s technology measures fluorescence signals and from that derives the metabolic state of embryos.  This means that clinicians will then be able to select only the very best embryos for implantation.  The result of this is not only increased success rates, but also a reduction in the number of multiple pregnancies, an often unwanted

Alexandra Dickson explained the origins of LuminOva and why they are so committed to making progress with their technology:

“What makes us so passionate at LuminOva is that we see a field where there hasn’t been much innovation taking place, things haven’t changed that much in the industry and we really feel that a simple technology like ours can really make a huge impact.”

LuminOva intends to use their prize to engage with regulatory attorneys to help the company develop their road-map to market.  They hope that very soon they will be able to move their technology from the laboratory and into the clinic so they can begin impacting the lives of patients.

Aldatu Biosciences wins the inaugural Bertarelli Prize at Harvard’s iLab

At the concluding event of the 2014 Dean’s Health & Life Science Challenge, Aldatu Biosciences was selected as the winner of the inaugural Bertarelli Prize – an impressive achievement for a young company with huge potential.

Aldatu Biosciences was founded at the iLab by David Raiser and Iain MacLeod to further their efforts to apply PANDAA (Pan-Degenerate Amplification and Adaptation) technology to the challenge of detecting drug resistant strains of HIV.  PANDAA is a familiar technology to many in the scientific community but Aldatu Bioscience have applied it in a novel way to great effect.

Drug resistance is already a huge problem and Iain McLeod be believes the problem is only getting worse:

“Year on year, both transmitted and acquired resistance to HIV antiretroviral is increasing around the world.  When a Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute study started in 2010, about 4 per cent. of women who were coming into antenatal clinics had resistance. Now it’s up to 10 per cent.”

Aldatu Biosciences are entering an exciting stage of their development and intend to use their prize to help further their existing relationships with health professionals in East Africa where there is urgent need for improved detection of drug resistance.

The Bertarelli Foundation is a keen supporter of entrepreneurs in the life science sector, and especially those that can make practical improvements to the health and well-being of large numbers of people.  Aldatu Biosciences is an excellent example of a young company with big ideas and the drive and desire to make a difference.

Partnerships renewed at Harvard Medical School and EPFL

The Bertarelli Foundation has today signed gift agreements with Harvard Medical School and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne that will secure and develop the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering. The new donations – totalling several million dollars – will fund the continuation of the education, research and knowledge-sharing program that was established in 2010. The signing of the gift coincided with the third annual Bertarelli Symposium, which took place in January at Harvard.

A unique partnership between American and Swiss universities, the Bertarelli Program brings together medics and scientists in neuroengineering to develop new therapies that will have real life-changing outcomes for patients with psychiatric and neurological diseases. It is this aim that really defines ‘Translational Neuroscience’ – marrying our increasing knowledge of the brain and nervous system with advances in neuroengineering to create results that are truly transformative. Among the research that is being undertaken are projects that are looking into cures for congenital deafness, as well as how we might combat paralysis – using electrodes and pharmaceuticals to reawaken the dormant circuitry that controls movement.

A further gift will establish the Bertarelli Catalyst Fund for the Dean of Harvard Medical School, with the goal of “supporting HMS priorities at the discretion of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.”

Commenting on the renewed partnership with EPFL and Harvard, Ernesto Bertarelli, Co-Chair of the Bertarelli Foundation, said:
“My family’s commitment to life sciences research goes back three generations. That is why we are particularly pleased to have cemented our association with these two world-leading institutions. The scientists on the Bertarelli Program are undertaking work that could herald astonishing and vital achievements – progress that could, potentially, improve the lives of many millions of people. The program also, I believe, serves as an example of what can be accomplished through real and meaningful collaboration.”

Image ©Steve Gilbert

The 2014 Bertarelli Symposium takes place at Harvard Medical School

At Harvard Medical School, 17-18 January, researchers and clinicians from the university joined colleagues from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne for the third annual Bertarelli Symposium.

This year’s meeting coincided with the formal renewal of the partnership between the Bertarelli Foundation and the two academic institutions in the form of the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering, established in 2010. The new gift – totalling several million dollars – will help to “continue to inspire neuroengineering advances by bringing basic and clinical investigations together with experts in device design for sensory and other neurologic systems.” The Program’s defining aims are collaboration and innovation. 

The 2014 Symposium was entitled Neuroengineering:Molecules, Minds and Machines and it provided an opportunity to hear and discuss current efforts in translational neuroscience, not least initial findings from the first six research grants awarded through the Bertarelli Program in 2011.

Read more here about the programme for the 2014 Symposium, including case-studies of the pioneering research that is being carried out.

Commenting on the Symposium and the Bertarelli Program, Ernesto Bertarelli said:

“The strength of this program is in what it achieves as a whole—facilitating and encouraging scientists and medics from wholly different disciplines, backgrounds and, of course, locations to work together. I look, for example, at the work being done on paralysis and hearing problems and am heartened and excited by the fact that we have different research programs, from the two universities, working together, combining specialties and all with a common goal. It is how science should be, I believe.”

David Corey, director of the program at Harvard, said:

“In designing the Bertarelli Program, we needed to decide what neuroengineering really means. It combines engineering, neurology and neuroscience, yet it becomes more than the sum of its parts by focusing on new solutions for neurological and psychiatric disorders and seeking neuroscience knowledge that will be useful for patient care immediately rather than down the road. In just two years, it is clear the program is delivering on that vision.”

Image ©Steve Gilbert