The Office of Research welcomes May Khanna, Ph.D., as the inaugural Assistant Dean for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Office of Research

May Khanna, Ph.D.

Khanna shares her entrepreneurial past and vision for the college and future programs

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The journey from academia to industry for postdoctoral scientists is one of trial and error. Many recent Ph.D. recipients must make a hard choice between working for a company or for a university. May Khanna, Ph.D., the inaugural Assistant Dean for Entrepreneurship and Innovation of the UF College of Medicine, aims to lead a culture change that will upend that precedent and forge an exciting new career possibility for investigators that combines advantages of both paths.

Alongside her deanship duties under the Office of Research, Khanna is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics. She received tenure from the University of Arizona and spent a few years at New York University before making her way to Gainesville. She brings expertise in small molecular therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases, paired with substantial experience in research startup ecosystems.

Using the experiences from her own lab, Khanna joined the college this past December with the goal of fostering an entrepreneurial spirit within the existing UF clinical enterprise. The May Khanna Laboratory, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, and the ForeBatten Foundation, develops ingestible small molecule drugs at the preclinical stage for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Batten disease. Drug discovery is also one of the most promising spaces for research funding; between 2010-2019 the NIH contributed $187 billion to 354 new drugs . This kind of attention has enabled Khanna and members of her lab to found a variety of startup companies alongside their research. Thus far, she has cofounded:

  • Regenerix LLC with Jonathan Lares Sanchez, Ph.D. – a company targeting two kinases for Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Eternum Analytics with David Donald Scott, Ph.D. – an ethical cannabis testing company.
  • RNATeb with Niloofar Ghadirian, Ph.D. – an innovative startup focused on targeting RNA as a therapeutic for cystic fibrosis and pain.

Khanna’s clear commitment to this daring vision of entrepreneurship for young scientists is unmistakable, as each of her cofounders is a former or current lab member.

“I feel that the people who are in my lab are the ones that really drive the technology, and that’s a rare thing,” Khanna said. “It excites them because they know as they come in, they have true ownership of their discoveries.”

Office of Research

"This is so unique and different from what we’re used to and there’s an end goal of actually starting businesses which I think in any world is a win for Florida."

– May Khanna, Ph.D.

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This method caught the eye of Azra Bihorac, MD, MS, the senior associate dean for research, who approached Khanna during her recruitment with an idea for a new leadership position.

“We just fed off each other’s energy right away,” Khanna said. “It was a fantastic meeting because we both could tell we had a similar vision for entrepreneurship. That’s where the position evolved from, and it took right off.”

Her first order of business: The UF Innovation 2 Entrepreneurship (I2E) program. Emulating the team-based idea-generating focus of the Merck Innovation Cup, the I2E program will unite one trainee (a postdoc or resident fellow) with a clinician and basic scientist to communicate their innovative solution to a pressing health need through a startup company pitch developed over a week. At the end of the week, the winning team’s trainee member will be granted $150,000 for two years to bring the company into reality. UF’s first I2E program is slated to begin February 2025 and will be open to members in all the health science colleges and the College of Engineering.

“There’s not many events that include the Colleges of Engineering, Pharmacy, Medicine, physicians and basic scientists all together to come to a common goal of having a startup,” Khanna said. “It’s not been done anywhere else. This is going to spark a lot of excitement.”

Until then, she will work with other Office of Research members to raise funds and recruit teams. Elizabeth Palmer, Ph.D., the Assistant Director of Educational and Training Programs, and Marah Berry, the Director of Research Strategy and Operations, hope many individuals will be excited to dip their toes into entrepreneurship through this program.

“People may be afraid to try it because it’s an unknown,” Khanna said. “But this is so unique and different from what we’re used to and there’s an end goal of actually starting businesses which I think in any world is a win for Florida.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the program or have a startup idea, reach out to may.khanna@ufl.edu.