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$100 million gift from Fred Eshelman and daughter Kimberly Eshelman Batten turn ideas into groundbreaking healthcare
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$100 million gift from Fred Eshelman and daughter Kimberly Eshelman Batten turn ideas into groundbreaking healthcare

It took the urgency of a global pandemic to hone the “Eshelman Way.”

A $100 million gift from Carolina alumnus Fred Eshelman — the largest individual commitment in the University’s history — launched the Eshelman Institute for Innovation.

After much fine-tuning, success and growth, the institute, housed within the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, is rebranding as Eshelman Innovation.

The Eshelman Way blueprint grew from lessons learned through the Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative. A full 18 months before the emergence of the novel coronavirus, the institute worked with READDI’s founders, a trio of world-class Carolina virologists, to translate their research into antiviral drugs to protect the world from viruses with pandemic potential.

After countless hours of scientific and market research, number crunching, and nearly 600 pitch meetings, the founders raised more than $90 million. That money allowed READDI to incorporate as a nonprofit associated with UNC-Chapel Hill and hire a CEO, Jimmy Rosen, who is accelerating READDI’s success.

Most importantly, the money is funding drug discovery and development work before the next catastrophic viral outbreak. Among other milestones, READDI is now a core implementation partner in the London-based 100 Days Mission, the world’s leading pandemic preparedness effort, launched by the Group of Seven countries.

“Life is full of challenges. That’s part of the journey. At Eshelman Innovation, when we encounter a healthcare problem, whether that’s preparing for the next pandemic or helping solve the opioid crisis, we don’t back away. We charge toward it,” says John Bamforth, Eshelman Innovation’s executive director. “The way to better life has always been through innovation, but great ideas alone can’t change the world. That’s where Eshelman Innovation comes in.”

While North Carolina ranks second in research investment, it lags behind at 20th in translation, the practical application of knowledge gained from research. Eshelman Innovation is helping close the translation gap.

“The patient impact is only realized when research is extended to the point of developmental translation,” says Eshelman, a pharmaceutical industry entrepreneur. “That’s what the institute is aiming for.”

Eshelman Innovation has produced a growing portfolio of startup companies and drugs under development. Its Therapeutics Accelerator has driven novel solutions to unmet needs in oncology, neuroscience, and infectious diseases. Its Venture Studio nurtures game-changing digital health startups to combat harm caused by opioid use disorder, food insecurity and more.

What differentiates Eshelman Innovation’s approach from other academic research is the commercialization support the institute provides.

For example, to address the opioid use disorder crisis, Eshelman Innovation’s Venture Studio team, along with partner High Alpha, traveled to rural western North Carolina, where the crisis is acute.

They partnered with the Mountain Area Health Education Center to develop a digital health platform for first responders. Known as Goldie, the platform helps track patients and encounters, apply clinical protocols, coordinate with social service organizations, and more. Eshelman Innovation recently announced it will pilot Goldie in rural Carteret County in eastern North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the Therapeutics Accelerator is supporting a portfolio of research into opioid alternatives to pain treatment, including providing faculty with market analysis and venture capital contacts.

“Faculty are excited about creating new knowledge, new data, new compounds, and new approaches to improve human health, but they aren’t necessarily trained in drug development and entrepreneurship,” says Angela Kashuba, dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “Eshelman Innovation is working for the faculty member, for the project, for the people of North Carolina to get those innovations out of the University for maximum impact.”

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