AMHERST — UMass Amherst alumnus Paul Manning and his wife, Diane Manning, have committed $1 million through their family foundation to establish the Manning Innovation Program, which provides three years of support in advancing a robust and sustainable pipeline of applied and translational research projects from UMass Amherst. It will allow the university’s College of Natural Sciences (CNS) to support bold, promising researchers, providing resources for them to innovate in new directions and to develop real-world applications for their discoveries.
The initiative will provide assistance to researchers and business students across campus through the critical early stages on the path to commercialization, such as ideation, proof of concept, and business development. Faculty will receive seed funding and engage in business training and mentorship from a number of campus units, including the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences, the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Isenberg School of Management.
“UMass Amherst researchers are working on some of the most important issues of our day,” said Paul Manning, who earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology in 1977. “I couldn’t think of a better place to invest in a cutting-edge model — bringing science and business together — that can bring solutions to more people, faster.”
Added CNS Dean Tricia Serio, “we are deeply grateful to the Mannings for their generous support of our mission to move the great science accomplished at UMass Amherst into the real world. By cultivating and mentoring high-achieving scientists and pairing them with business-minded collaborators, this program has the potential to change industries — and lives.”
The first grant to be awarded from the Manning Innovation Program will support research on a topic that hits close to home for the Manning family, Stargardt disease. Both of the Mannings’ sons, Bradford and Bryan, have the disease, which causes loss of central vision. Currently, there is no treatment to delay or cure the disease. The two Manning brothers now run a clothing line called Two Blind Brothers, and they donate all of its proceeds directly to blindness research.
Abigail Jensen, associate professor of Biology, will use a $40,000 grant to support her research on Stargardt disease and possible therapies using zebrafish. Her research seeks to identify how the disease works on a molecular level. Development of zebrafish with therapeutic mutations subverting Stargardt disease at the genetic level provides the first opportunity to discover the molecular mechanism of cone-photoreceptor degeneration and potential pathways for translation of research to therapeutic applications.
In keeping with the university’s core values, the Manning Innovation Program will stimulate, recognize, and reward innovation. It will foster a culture of entrepreneurship in the college and enhance the spirit of collaboration among Isenberg School of Management advisors, science and technology researchers, and industry experts. Further, the Manning Foundation’s gift provides vital investment to support UMass as a partner of choice in advancing and applying knowledge and innovation for the betterment of society.
“The Manning Innovation Program provides much-needed support to enable the development of groundbreaking research from UMass towards product candidates, prototypes, and translational technology,” said Peter Reinhart, founding director of the Institute for Applied Life Sciences. “It will allow CNS to provide a revolutionary educational opportunity for the next generation of scientists and business leaders to experience the power of interdisciplinary applied research.”
Tom Moliterno, interim dean of Isenberg School of Management, added that the program “creates a new way of harnessing great ideas and cultivating them into applicable solutions. By bringing together the greatest minds in science and business, we will be able to tackle larger challenges. I’m excited to see what this new program yields — and I’m hopeful for the patents, products, and solutions that will be born out of it.”
The next wave in the application process for the Manning Innovation Program will result in a new round of applications being submitted by July 15. The review committee will notify recipients at the end of August, and the next round of projects could begin in September.
Paul Manning, an entrepreneur with 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry, most recently founded PBM Capital Group in 2010. PBM Capital is a healthcare-focused private investment group that looks for opportunities to use its entrepreneurial and operational experience to make high-growth pharmaceutical, molecular-diagnostic, gene-therapy, life-science, health/wellness, and consumer product investments. He was the anchor investor in Maroon Venture Partners, the first venture-capital fund at UMass Amherst. Created in 2017, the fund is a $6 million, for-profit investment vehicle created to support alumni, faculty, and student businesses in their early stages.