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UNM launches bioscience shark tank

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico biologist Nancy Kanagy dove into her first shark tank Thursday with a new technology for early detection of disease in diabetics.

A three-member panel of seasoned investors and entrepreneurs peppered her with questions about the technology’s market potential in front of a packed audience at UNM’s first-ever Bioscience Fast Pitch.

Kanagy took first place against two other researchers with novel medical innovations at the event, which was jointly organized by UNM Health Sciences’ Clinical and Translational Science Center and the New Mexico Bioscience Authority to increase the transfer of university technology from lab to market.

Kanagy won a gift certificate and bragging rights for successfully stepping out of her laboratory comfort zone and into the wolves’ den, where promising academic discoveries collide with the real world of business.

“It’s the first time I’ve done a pitch,” Kanagy told the Journal. “I’m a scientist, and I spend my time in the lab. This is very different than anything I’ve done before, but I need to tell investors and businesspeople about our technology to move it forward, or it could just die in the lab.”

The pitch and networking event reflect a newfound effort to forge collaborative partnerships between academics and entrepreneurs to propel more UNM inventions into the marketplace, said Dr. Richard Larson, Health Sciences Center executive vice chancellor. It’s part of a new BioVenture Partnership between UNM and the Bioscience Authority.

“It’s our first event for people to network and build relationships,” Larson said. “Hopefully, it can lead to more startups and businesses here in the bioscience arena, creating more jobs and economic development in New Mexico.”

UNM Health Sciences is already one of the university’s most-prolific centers for marketable inventions, with more than three dozen startups formed around its life science technologies since 2004. But there’s a lot more available in UNM labs.

“We want to dramatically increase that number, and this event is part of that process,” Larson said.

Larson is chair of the new Bioscience Authority, created last year by the state Legislature to spearhead programs, initiatives and incentives to expand New Mexico’s life sciences industry.

A lot of emerging biotechnology was on display at Thursday’s event, which included a poster display manned by researchers showing nearly two dozen medical-related innovations for new diagnostics and therapies for cancer, diabetes and other diseases.

The other two competing technologies in the Bioscience Fast Pitch included a new temperature-stabilization process to keep vaccines fresh without refrigeration, and an app to educate and assist students against alcohol abuse.

All participants won gift certificates, but it’s the shark tank experience that really counts, said New Mexico Angels President John Chavez, one of the pitch judges.

“It was all about professional development — learning how to talk with investors and community members,” Chavez said.

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