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New IGCC Initiative—Catalyst—Supports UC San Diego COVID-19 Response

April 20, 2020
Lindsay Shingler


COVID-19 is challenging populations, economies and medical systems around the globe. As the impact of the pandemic grows, innovators across UC San Diego have responded, rapidly developing solutions that will improve pandemic response efforts in Southern California, and potentially across the country and beyond.

One of the organizations responding is Catalyst, a new initiative of the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) that aims to drive more and better investment in and adoption of innovations that can strengthen US national security and global prosperity. A network of researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and established companies, Catalyst connects brokers relationships and provides practical policy recommendations to improve U.S. national security competitiveness.

Catalyst’s first COVID-19 related effort supported the Jacobs School of Engineering’s Medically Advanced Devices Lab in its innovative respirator project. Following the release of a Department of Defense (DOD) Technology Innovation Challenge—which called on the scientific and innovation community to develop a low-cost, mechanical ventilation support system that can be rapidly produced at local levels—DOD’s Office of Naval Research approached Scott Tait, executive director of Catalyst, encouraging Catalyst to disseminate the challenge among its extensive networks of innovators, incubators, and accelerators.

“I reached out to Miroslav Krstic at the Office of Research Affairs, and Paul Roben at the Office of Innovation and Commercialization, who pointed me to the Jacobs School of Engineering’s MAD Lab,” said Tait. “The MAD Lab had several innovative, multi-disciplinary ventilator efforts in progress under the leadership of James Friend, Lonnie Petersen and Caspar Petersen.”

With several promising solutions, the MAD lab needed funding to advance to prototyping and testing. Catalyst got to work, reaching out to its network of investors. Things began to move quickly: IGCC immediately contributed $10,000 to assist in the development of prototypes. Thirty-six hours later, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., which develops and fields systems, platforms and products for national security and communications needs, contributed $100,000. This was followed less than a week later by another $144,463 contribution from DOD’s Office of Naval Research, working through the Naval Air Force Science Advisor.

All in all, Catalyst’s efforts generated more than $250,000 in funding for the MAD lab in less than a week.

“We’re humbled, grateful and encouraged by the response of the Catalyst partners and the entire UC San Diego team in rising to meet the challenges of this crisis,” said Tait. “While we’re working hard to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also mindful of seizing the many opportunities it presents to make us a better and more effective team going forward.”

With Catalyst support, the MAD lab submitted four proposals to DOD as part of the innovation challenge. One of the four made it to the final round of judging. Although the UC San Diego submission was not ultimately chosen, it will proceed to production for local use and possible export to developing countries.

Catalyst has brokered a number of other partnerships aimed at addressing the COVID-19 challenge. With the surge in demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), and limited supply, Dennis Abremski of the Rady-Jacobs Institute for the Global Entrepreneur (IGE) and Eric Shnell of Craitor, a UC San Diego start-up that builds ruggedized 3D printers, developed a project to 3D print personal protective masks for first responders. Closure of the UC San Diego campus hampered their ability to access printers, so Catalyst reached out to Strategic Operations, a local partner, who, within 24 hours, opened their substantial 3D printing and silicon modeling facilities to the Craitor team. Strategic Operations also provided staff time and raw materials. The Strategic Operations team is now ramping production of silicon masks for donation to local hospitals and first responders, shouldering the cost of materials and labor (volunteers to help with production are needed: They will soon be producing approximately 160 per day.

While the fight to control COVID-19 continues, some have begun to losok ahead to the needs of returning society to work. That effort will entail ensuring the virus is eradicated from public spaces to prevent a reoccurrence of the outbreak. As both government and private organizations plan for this reality, Catalyst has connected one of its associate companies BioLargo, with business, health and military practitioners. BioLargo’s CupriDyne cleanser is a safe, iodine and cuprous iodide based liquid that can be dispersed as an aerosol as well as a liquid, so it can quickly be used to treat large areas and ventilation systems.

Catalyst’s network-of-networks is designed to rapidly find and field solutions in order to improve U.S. national security. By complimenting and supporting existing national security innovation initiatives, and leveraging San Diego’s unique security, technology, business and university environment, Catalyst is advancing UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla’s priority to make UC San Diego the “go-to” source of improved linkages between the academy, the private sector, and with national security resources in Southern California and beyond.

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