Cassera named summer 2021 Innovation Fellow

M. Belen Cassera
Belen Cassera (Submitted photo)

Associate professor Belen Cassera is one step closer to introducing her research to the marketplace. Having spent the summer as UGA’s newest Innovation Fellow, Cassera has learned a lot about how to bring parasitic disease therapeutics arising from her research to market.

“In fall 2019, I was among the 18 chosen women from UGA who participated in the inaugural Innovation Bootcamp, where we learned about the Innovation Fellow program, among several other opportunities designed to guide faculty seeking to commercialize their discoveries,” said Cassera, an associate professor in biochemistry and molecular biology and member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. “The bootcamp was the ‘switch on’ I needed to refocus my research, and being chosen as an Innovation Fellow is the ‘takeoff’ of this new journey for me.”

Cassera’s research focuses primarily on the discovery and development of novel anti-parasitic drugs, aiming to understand how therapeutics work at the biochemical and cellular levels. A month into her fellowship, Cassera is already gaining new insight into the commercialization process and how it can inform her approach to research.

“I have experienced a great transformation in my research goals,” she said. “In every aspect that we have addressed, I see a translation back to my lab—everything is connected. For instance, I now understand how to utilize knowledge and resources that we already have to expand and grow into other areas that will bring in more funding, new knowledge and potentially new products.”

Launched in 2019 as part of UGA’s Innovation District initiative, the Innovation Fellows program encourages faculty and staff to pursue commercialization and development of their research through Innovation Gateway. Fellows are trained in how to successfully translate their research projects into a marketable products, receive mentorship from a fellow faculty and/or industry partner, and receive up $10,000 to support their activities.

“Belen is a very technical person with a very precise end goal in mind,” said Ian Biggs, director of programming for the Innovation District and director of Innovation Gateway’s startup program. “The goal of the Gateway team is to provide her with the tools, expertise and guidance she needs to turn her vision into a commercialized reality.”

Thanks to the Innovation Fellows program, the future is not only bright for Cassera’s research, but also for the rest of her academic career as well.

“The insights and knowledge I’ve gained from this fellowship will help me substantially improve my teaching, training and mentoring of students pursuing their careers in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries,” she said.

Applications for the 2021 fall cohort are now open. The deadline to apply is Aug. 15.


This story first appeared at UGA Today

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