The Isthmus Project, a new business accelerator program at UW Health, has already accepted two startups and is considering several more.

That’s according to Thomas ‘Rock’ Mackie, chief innovation officer at UW Health and director of the program, which was announced in early February. He spoke yesterday at a Madison luncheon held by the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Healthcare Business Forum.

As head of the new initiative, he says he’s still in the process of making industry connections and developing working relationships with other groups on campus.

“It’s sort of like building an airplane while we’re flying it,” Mackie said.

Of the two approved startups, Mackie says one would make a good not-for-profit or university center, while the other would be better suited as a for-profit endeavor. The former is called ProMaps, and the latter is called PACT, or Program for Advanced Cell Therapy.

PACT is headed by Dr. Jacques Galipeau, an assistant dean of medicine at UW-Madison who is pioneering a method of protecting patients with compromised immune systems.

Mackie says this work represents a huge opportunity to capitalize on a “very rare, very personalized” set of drug treatments.

As Mackie explains, patients who receive bone marrow or other transplants are forced to undergo immune suppression, leaving them exposed to “all kinds of bacterial and viral assaults.” A common virus that would mean a sore throat and some bed rest for the average person could kill a transplant patient or destroy their new organ.

To help patients like these, Galipau looks for any close relatives who are already immune to the virus in question. By drawing some blood, isolating cells that confer immunity, and injecting them into the transplant patient at a certain ratio, he can eliminate the infection in 80 percent of cases.

This method of treatment is highly focused, Mackie said. By picking up individual “immune competencies” one at a time, patients keep the risk of transplant rejection low.

“There’s a lot of different types of infections … and by the way, this whole work can be applied to cancer as well,” Mackie said. Read the full story here.