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Catapult: Pushing groundbreaking technologies into the private sector

The Catapult Program is a tailored technology maturation pipeline which enables targeted and progressive business, legal, regulatory, and technical development. Engagement with the program introduces team members to industry best practices and expands their network within UW-Madison and the greater Madison entrepreneurial ecosystem. It also engages the team with the Institute’s Industry Consortium partners, enabling opportunities for sponsored projects and collaborations.

Current Catapult Projects

Click through to see specific project descriptions, development team members, citations and intellectual property positions, and status by development track.

Scaffold technology for large scale tissue repair

Plant-derived scaffolds have significant potential to serve as effective, affordable, and scalable platforms for manufacture of tissue repair products. Adaptable and highly effective, these platforms leverage the microfeatures and vascular networks native to plant materials to facilitate the manufacture of complex engineered tissues. Researchers at UW-Madison are developing plant-derived tissue scaffolds as a means to treat complex wounds. These unique materials are also being examined for their potential to support in vitro culture of functional skeletal muscle tissue.

Photo Credit: Gianluca Fontana

Hau Le, MD (

Bill Murphy, PhD (     The Murphy Laboratory

Sabrina Brounts, DVM, PhD (

Status by Development Track

Business Development 67%
Technical Development 53%
Regulatory Development 62%

Endogenous signal-based cell enrichment for immunotherapy

To improve the fidelity of quality assessments, process optimization, and thorough product characterization  prior to clinical development of cell-based therapies, researchers at UW-Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research have developed a label-free, non-destructive  optical  detection  approach  to  quantify  overall  cell  state,  viability,  and  activation  with  single-cell  resolution. Applied to Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, this non-destructive, optical interrogation method can provide real-time, in-line assessment of the manufacturing process, facilitating the generation of a cell product with enhanced function and therapeutic efficacy.

Image courtesy of Melissa Skala

Melissa Skala, PhD (     The Skala Laboratory

Amani Gillette, PhD (

Andrea Schiefelbein (

Emmanuel Contreras Guzman (

Dan Pham (

IIT: Prin Sirithanawuth

Status by Development Track

Business Development 80%
Technical Development 60%

Exosome-mediated therapy for acute radiation syndrome

Exosome educated macrophages (EEM) demonstrate reparative and regenerative properties suitable for treating disease states resulting from unchecked inflammatory responses and/or direct tissue damage.  By promoting hematopoietic recovery, as well as tissue repair and regeneration, EEM therapy has the potential to ameliorate multiple conditions including the damage to hematologic, gastrointestinal, cutaneous, cardiovascular and central nervous systems resulting from excessive radiation exposure.  In addition to treating acute radiation syndrome, EEM is also being examined for potential use as a therapy for myocardial infarction and orthopedic applications.

Image courtesy of Peiman Hematti / Christian Capitini

Peiman Hematti, MD (     The Hematti Laboratory

Christian Capitini, MD (     The Capitini Laboratory

John Kink, PhD (

Matthew Forsberg, PhD (

IIT: Aicha Quamine, Aaron Simmons

Status by Development Track

Business Development 73%
Technical Development 60%
Regulatory Development 47%

Coated microcarriers for serum-free human cell manufacturing

To enable reliable, consistent, large scale cell culture necessary for advancing clinical assessment, and commercial availability of cell-based therapies researchers have engineered a first-in-the-field synthetic, chemically defined, and tailorable microparticle for commercial scale cell culture applications. The surface chemistry of the microparticles enables user-defined functionalization with growth factors, eliminating the need for xenogenic serum proteins, while supporting enzyme-free cell harvesting to preserve cell functionality and differentiation potential downstream of expansion, ideal of hMSC clinical applications.

Image courtesy of John Krutty

Padma Gopalan, PhD (     The Gopalan Laboratory

Bill Murphy, PhD (     The Murphy Laboratory

Carl Ross (

John Krutty, PhD (

IIT: Sam Schini (

Status by Development Track

Business Development 80%
Technical Development 67%
Regulatory Development 60%

Cancer immunotherapy via intra-tumoral delivery

To overcome the hurdle of biologics instability and effective controlled release profiles, UW investigators have developed a nanostructured mineral material to both stabilize biologics against extreme external stressors, such as proteases, as well as provide tunable degradation kinetics for sustained therapeutic release. Applied to intertumoral cytokine delivery, the mineralized microparticle delivery platform substantially expands the utility of immunotherapy by providing a single vehicle compatible with custom functionalization across numerous therapeutic biomolecules, while also providing significant improvements in in vivo therapeutic stability.

Image courtesy of William Murphy

Bill Murphy, PhD (     The Murphy Laboratory

Zachary Morris, MD, PhD (zmorris@     The Morris Laboratory

Mark Albertini, MD (

Hannah Martin (

Status by Development Track

Business Development 27%
Technical Development 33%
Regulatory Development 13%

Human cell and tissue screening to treat brain disease

Cellular aggregates that recapitulate the composition, organization, and function of human tissues offer a sustainable, alternative to animal testing. To address the challenges of poor reproducibility and limited scalability, UW-Madison researchers have developed fully-defined, poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogel scaffolds that support consistent generation of these organoid tissues. Designed with modular chemistry, the user can precisely incorporate defined bioactive components, allowing for the synthesis of a versatile, scalable tissue culture matrix supporting a diverse array of human organ models for safety and toxicity testing.

Image courtesy of William Murphy

James Thomson, VMD, PhD (     The Thomson Laboratory

Bill Murphy, PhD (     The Murphy Laboratory

Status by Development Track

Business Development 33%
Technical Development 40%

Protein binding devices to tailor autologous biologics

Autologous biologics contain a mileau of powerful signaling molecules that could be used to treat human disease. However, they also contain a number of molecules that can have a negative influence on healing processes. Researchers have developed a means to deleterious molecules from autologous biologics, and thereby improve their likelihood of achieving widespread safety and efficacy in orthopedic applications.

Image courtesy of William Murphy

Bill Murphy, PhD (     The Murphy Laboratory

Jae Sung Lee, PhD (

IIT: Joshua Choe

This project initiated Catapult onboarding in 2020Q2, and the team is currently performing a gap analysis to establish a risk mitigation plan.

Biomimetic grafts engineered for vascular reconstruction

UW researchers have developed biocompatible, antithrombogenic vascular grafts made of ePTFE with a confluent layer of immunoreaction-free endothelial cells to generate artificial small diameter blood vessels (SDBV). This breakthrough can serve as an alternative to autologous vascular grafts for patients with severe coronary artery disease where invasive procedures and insufficient graft availability preclude autologous vessel use. SDBV overcome the limitations of thrombogenicity and restenosis that would normally be associated with small-diameter vascular grafts, and enables a new therapeutic approach for cardiovascular disease treatment.

Image courtesy of Tom Turng

Lih-Sheng (Tom) Turng, PhD (     The Turng Laboratory

Zhutong Li (

Stefanie Glas (

Chenglong Yu (

IIT: Hannah Martin

This project initiated Catapult onboarding in 2020Q3, and the team is currently engaged in an initial market analysis.

Multicell conjugates for antigen-specific T cell responses

Born of research into how innate T lymphocytes contribute to immune responses, and how these cells may be used therapeutically to treat or prevent disease, recent advances by UW innovators have identified a highly immunostimulatory complex of immune cells that shows considerable promise as a novel cancer immunotherapy. Translating this discovery into a readily-available treatment option is the focus of this new project.

Image from WARF Innovation Award Presentation

Jenny Gumperz, PhD (     The Gumperz Laboratory

Dana Baiu, PhD (

IIT: Sophie Mancha, Liz Appelt

This project initiated Catapult onboarding in 2020Q4, and the team is currently engaged in market analysis and process robustness assessment.

Platform to develop human cells for neurodegenerative therapy

Capitalizing on advances in controlling human pluripotent stems cells, research groups at UW-Madison have developed fully defined, synthetic hydrogel scaffolds with modular chemistry to precisely direct cell differentiation. These scaffolds have been used to successfully derive 3D self-assembling, multicellular, biomimetic in vitro systems representing a transformative opportunity to develop personalized treatments ranging from new companion diagnostics technologies to in vitro synthesis of patient-derived cell therapies for neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative conditions.

Image courtesy of William Murphy

James Thomson, VMD, PhD (     The Thomson Laboratory

Bill Murphy, PhD (     The Murphy Laboratory

This project initiated Catapult onboarding in 2020Q4, and the team is currently engaged in market analysis.

Novel non-viral CAR T therapy for treatment of sarcomas

Researchers at UW-Madison have employed novel CRISPR genome editing strategies to facilitate the flexible and scalable manufacture of clinically-relevant, high-quality Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cells. This non-viral approach to CAR T cell therapy has the potential to improve product consistency, eliminate reliance on animal-derived materials, and reduce the cost of this class of cutting-edge therapeutics.

Image courtesy of Kris Saha

Kris Saha, PhD (     The Saha Laboratory

Christian Capitini, MD (     The Capitini Laboratory

Matthew Forsberg, PhD (

Lei Shi, PhD (

Katie Mueller (

Dan Cappabianca (

Lauren Sarko  (

IIT: Laura Muehlbauer, Aris Magoulas

We welcome this new project, which initiated Catapult onboarding in 2021!

Exited Catapult Projects

Mineral coated microparticles; a platform for biologics delivery

Emerging biologics tend to lose biological activity due to their fragile structural conformation during formulation, storage, and delivery. This inability to stabilize and effectively release biologics from controlled-release depots represents a major obstacle in drug delivery. UW investigators have developed a bone mineral-inspired stabilization and controlled release strategy, using nanostructured mineral materials to maintain the molecular conformational structure of biologics exposed to extreme external stressors.

Image accessed from

Bill Murphy, PhD (     The Murphy Laboratory

This project has successfully exited Catapult, with IP being licensed to Dianomi Therapeutics for further development.

Genome editing-based therapeutic for inherited retinal disease

To better realize the tremendous potential of gene therapy to revolutionize personalized healthcare, UW Madison researchers have developed two novel encapsulation technology platforms capable of delivering a suite of gene therapy payload, such as CRISPR-Cas9 complexes, DNA, and mRNA, circumventing the safety and efficacy concerns surrounding industry-standard viral vectors. These nanocarriers can be synthesized to both target specific cell types of interest, and safely deliver gene editing payloads that employ patient-specific guide RNA to specifically edit the mutated allele without measurable toxicity to the edited cells.

Image courtesy of Sarah Gong

Krishanu Saha, PhD (     The Saha Laboratory

Shaoqin (Sarah) Gong, PhD (     The Gong Laboratory

This project has successfully exited Catapult as part of a sponsored research agreement between the innovator and an industry partner.

A hydrogel device for efficient allogeneic tissue transfer

Challenges related to precise tissue transplantation during Descemet’s Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty led to the development of a hyaluronic acid hydrogel to aid in surgical placement of this allogeneic tissue to replace damaged or compromised corneal endothelium. The self-folding hydrogel reduces physical manipulation and provides hydration support for endothelial cells. By preventing endothelial damage and counteracting the tissue’s propensity to deform during surgery, this product is projected to result in faster healing times, with resultant improvement in contrast acuity.

Image courtesy of Neal Barney / William Murphy

Neal Barney, MD (     The Barney Laboratory

Bill Murphy, PhD (     The Murphy Laboratory

This Catapult project was paused after completion of the market analysis. It is under further review for an impact assessment.

© 2018