“To see my basic science research have a chance
to evolve into something that can actually cure
disease is very cool and really, really exciting!
Through QED, I now better understand
how the science I work on can become a
business, and ultimately, a product that
can help people. As a scientist, I’ve had to
learn how to talk to investors—kind of like
a high-technology version of Shark Tank.”

explore
Sam Gunderson’s gene-silencing
technology could result in new
ways to help patients with
pancreatic cancer. Gunderson is
the first scientist to receive two
QED awards.
Sam Gunderson’s gene-silencing
technology could result in new
ways to help patients with
pancreatic cancer. Gunderson is
the first scientist to receive two
QED awards.

“To see my basic science research have a chance
to evolve into something that can actually cure
disease is very cool and really, really exciting!
Through QED, I now better understand
how the science I work on can become a
business, and ultimately, a product that
can help people. As a scientist, I’ve had to
learn how to talk to investors—kind of like
a high-technology version of Shark Tank.”

my ENDEAVOR

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer—the majority of patients die within a year of diagnosis. Even though key genes that contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer have been identified, we haven’t been able to use them to create early detection or treatment options. This is surprising, since mutations in one of these genes, KRAS, are present in more than 90 percent of pancreatic tumors!

We have developed a unique approach to “silencing” genes, including mutated cancer genes like KRAS. Our technology, based on U1 Adaptors, is different from any other gene-silencing method. We hope it will enable a product that will halt and regress pancreatic tumors by suppressing mutated KRAS genes. We know it works in the test tube, but we don’t yet know if it works in the body.

my PROGRAM

QED was the first money we got to test the technology in complex biological models. Prior to our first award in 2010, the U1 Adaptor technology had only been used in animal cells growing in a dish. We are using our second QED award to develop and validate a KRAS U1 Adaptor product to treat pancreatic cancer.

QED differs from most support I have received as an academic researcher. They don’t simply hand you money because they like what you are doing. They provide other support and business training, which is especially valuable for professors and academics who have little experience with the business side.

Having someone take a chance on my work was critical to making the leap from concept to potential therapy. As the first-ever recipient of two QED awards, I have a great sense of hope for the patients that my technology could ultimately help.

[READ MORE ABOUT QED]

my NETWORK

Dr. Rafal Goraczniak was the first employee of SilaGene, a company we spun out of Rutgers based on the U1 Adaptor technology. As a senior scientist in my laboratory at Rutgers and co-inventor of the U1 Adaptor technology, it was a natural transition for Rafal to jump from academia to SilaGene, and he’s still its chief science officer today.

Our involvement in QED linked us up with Dr. James Ballance, who was a business advisor to our first project in 2010. Jim has since joined SilaGene as chief business officer. His knowledge, experience and networks have enabled my technology to transition from a QED grant to a real company in the biotech industry.

my HABITAT

I have one foot in the academic world and one in the business world. While I’m connected to the Science Center through the QED network, I am not physically there that often. When I am at the Science Center, I’m meeting with my Business Advisor, or potential investors and collaborators.

In New Jersey, I’m either in my lab or the classroom at Rutgers or at SilaGene’s labs. We continue to develop our technology so that we can attract investment in SilaGene, through venture capital, industry partnerships, and other mechanisms. Thanks to QED, at this point we know what needs to be done.