June 23rd, 2017

VA BioGENEius Challenge Winner Chosen as International Finalist

Marissa Sumathipal on stage at BIO International ConventionBroad Run High School Junior, Marissa Sumathipala of Ashburn was introduced during a plenary session of the BIO International Convention as a finalist in the 2017 International BioGENEius Challenge. She competed against students from the U.S., Canada and Germany this week managing rigorous interviews by renowned judges from international companies like Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. Her research focuses on Cardiometabolic disease, a cluster of correlated diseases which increases risk for heart disease. Be Inspired by the 2017 BioGENEius Challenge video here.

Marissa was selected initially by the Virginia Bioscience Foundation, the charitable foundation of Virginia Bio, as the Virginia BioGENEius Challenge winner in March, earning the trip to San Diego to compete. She spent the week engaging with leading companies, scientists and innovators currently transforming the scientific landscape, in order to gain invaluable insights into an industry making significant contributions to the world.

The BioGENEius Challenge is the premier competition for high school students that recognizes outstanding research and innovation in the biotechnology field. The Virginia Bioscience Foundation has been participating in the competition as a local partner producing and promoting the state level competition since 2011. The program has been highly successful producing three international challenge finalists in its six years of participation.

June 23rd, 2017

Former Virginia BioGENEius Challenge Winner Joins Hall of Fame

Riley Ennis 2017 Hall of Fame WinnerRiley Ennis, a 2011 Virginia BioGENEius Challenge winner, and International Challenge Finalist, was recognized yesterday during a plenary session of the BIO International Convention with the 2017 BioGENEius Hall of Fame Award. As a Virginia high school senior, Riley had already formed his first company, Immudicon Inc., focused on the development of a cancer vaccine based upon a novel mechanism of recruiting dendritic cells. He moved on to study cell biology at Dartmouth and was later invited to work under a Visiting Scientist agreement with Novartis. In all, he conducted impactful research at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Georgetown University, and Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. These efforts culminated in two publications and a book chapter.

While at the helm of Immudicon, he drove partnerships with over 14 pharma companies. The vaccine technology has been recognized by CNN, Milken, Forbes, TEDx, Johnson & Johnson, and Bloomberg and will hopefully enter clinical trials in 2017. Riley continued to advance his business acumen by working for biotech companies such as Foundation Medicine, Syros Pharmaceuticals, and Emergent BioSolutions along with keeping financial perspectives in focus by internships with Morgan Stanley and Bridgewater.

In a transformative experience, Riley was the recipient of a Thiel Fellowship, a program created by Silicon Valley icon Peter Thiel through the Thiel Foundation. The fellowship is intended for students under the age of 23 and offers them a total of $100,000 over two years, as well as guidance and other resources to pursue their vision involving scientific research, creating a startup, or working on a social movement. Selection is a competitive process with an annual acceptance rate below 1% – more competitive than any elite university.

Today, Riley is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Freenome. Freenome is a health technology company bringing accurate, accessible and non-invasive disease screenings to enable patients and their doctors to proactively treat cancer and other diseases at their most manageable stages. Since the company’s beginning in 2014, Freenome has had a clear vision – to reinvent disease management through early detection and intervention. Over the past three years, Freenome has focused on making cancer screening and diagnostics as accurate and accessible as possible, through a fusion of machine learning, biology and computer science. Freenome just closed a $65m Series A funding round backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, Polaris, Founders Fund, Innovation Endeavors among others.

April 4th, 2012

WCVE: One Young Man’s Story That Could Save Your Life

Check out this great story from WCVE Public Radio & Television in Richmond on the Virginia BioGENEius Challenge:

The BioGENEius Challenge: One Young Man’s Story that Could Save Your Life

I am continuously amazed when I hear about young scientists – high school students – who are making a difference in the future of medicine.  I recently talked with Riley Ennis, a freshman at Dartmouth College, who won theVirginia BioGENEius Challenge last year and went on to become a U.S. National BioGENEius finalist.  He started developing a new way to treat cancer while he was still in high school.  Read on to find out about this young man’s journey and the role the Virginia BioGENEius Challenge has played in his life.

The Virginia BioGENEius Challenge is a “virtual science fair” competition that is happening this month.  It is an incredible opportunity for high schools students currently enrolled in biology or science-related courses across Virginia.  It is co-sponsored by the Virginia Biotechnology Association,Virginia Bioscience Foundation, and ATCC. The application deadline is April 15th.

I contacted Riley because I wanted to know more about his experience.  I was curious about how he become interested in biotechnology and how competing in the BioGENEius Challenge affected his college and career choices.  What he shared with me goes so much further.  Riley is not only an inspiration for young people to tackle hard problems and think out of the box, but he is also an example of a young scientist who is making a difference in cancer research and therapies that could change all of our lives.

Here is one young man’s story:

How did you become interested in Biotechnology in the first place?

“I actually was interested in marine biology as a kid.  I used to love paddling out on the surfboard to try and find dolphins and snorkeling after turtles on vacations.  As I grew older, my interest in marine life transformed into a passion for biomedical sciences.  I found it fascinating how some of our greatest medical innovations actually came from the ocean, and that is what pushed me towards biotechnology.”

What inspired you to pursue biotechnology research and to apply to the BioGENEius challenge?

“I was inspired by the challenge.  I wanted to change things that I was being told were not possible or not doable.  In the end I thought outside of the box and made it happen.  Ultimately the idea for my research came from a culmination of my life’s experiences that included two particular events – a NOVA research special on horseshoe crabs and how their immune system’s work and an article I read at a summer internship at UPenn on cancer immunology.  Being exposed to these two very different topics allowed me to bridge an idea that had never been thought of before: to generate a novel vaccine delivery system for cancer.”

What was your winning project?

“My research project was on a novel cancer vaccine technology that is a cost effective and patient specific therapy that teaches the cells of the immune system to recognize and destroy the cancer.  The irony is that over forty years ago President Nixon declared war on cancer, and still today chemotherapy and radiation remain the primary forms of treatment.  But maybe with cancer vaccines, the answer this whole time has been within us and part of our own immune systems!”

What are you doing now that is related to your original research?

“As a freshman at Dartmouth College, I invest a lot of time into Immudicon, which is the spin off biotechnology company from my research at BioGENEius.  After I had finished the research and development of the vaccine I came into contact with industry experts who helped me start the company, file the patent applications, and begin to focus on licensing the idea or intellectual property to larger biotechnology companies.  With the hope that one day the technology will make a difference.”

What was it like going to the US National and International BioGENEius Challenge?

“Standing on stage in front of hundreds of our world’s most successful biotechnology CEOs, hearing Tony Blair speak, and interacting with some of the most incredible industry leaders was an event I will never forget.  In addition, the students I met and the friendships I have made have helped me so much in many ways.  I even was co-inducted with one of my fellow BioGENEius challenge winners into the National Young Inventors Gallery this year!”

What would you like to tell other middle and high school students to inspire them to become involved in biotechnology and this competition?

“When you believe you can do something and you enable yourself to do so you can do anything you want to.  Everyday kids of all ages and all backgrounds are changing the world in one way or another.  Kids without degrees are making huge discoveries in science, which could one day have major implications.  I was told I could not make a difference, but through my experiences I learned that perseverance, tenacity, and always looking for the big picture will get you a long way.  Take every opportunity and explore all the incredible things in this world.”

Finally I would like to share with you the most amazing moment in my entire journey.  The one event in this that changed my life was when I was asked to speak at my local chapter Relay for Life cancer fundraising event.  As I spoke about vaccines and nanotechnology, I quickly noticed that members in the audience began to cry.  The woman in the front dreamed the vaccine would work so she could beat her cancer and be a mother to her children.  The man in the back prayed the vaccine would work so he could walk his daughter down the aisle.  These are real people, and whether my vaccine is a potential new therapy or not, it will contribute to the field and hopefully one day help us to find a cure.  This was the moment that kept me late in the lab after school and pushed me through all of the difficulties surrounding the project.  And these are the moments that make biotechnology or just about any research project worth pursuing: the idea that one day you could actually save a life!”

If you are – or you know of a young person who is interested in making a difference in the biosciences or medical device industry, now is the time for you to apply to the Virginia BioGENEius Challenge.


For More information and an application

February 22nd, 2012

Apply Now for 2012 Virginia BioGENEius Challenge!

Virginia students are invited to apply to represent the Commonwealth in the 2012 Virginia BioGENEius Challenge and compete for the national team at the BIO International Convention in Boston this June.

About the Program: The U.S. National and International BioGENEius Challenge is the premier competition for high school students that recognizes outstanding research in biotechnology. The International BioGENEius Challenge promotes excellence and enables students to continue research in biotechnology and design an original independent research project. This competition is an intensive and valuable research experience for high school students. In 2011, Riley Ennis, a 17 year-old senior from Fairfax County, Virginia, was selected as a U.S. National BioGENEius finalist.

The winners of the U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge will compete in the International BioGENEius Challenge held in Boston, Massachusetts, June, 2012, in conjunction with the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO) Annual International Convention. Finalists will showcase their talent and research to a prestigious panel of expert biotech judges and will display their projects to approximately 20,000 convention participants!

U. S. National BioGENEius Challenge finalists will receive a trip to compete at the International BioGENEius Challenge. All International finalists will compete and be recognized in Boston, Massachusetts, June, 2012 in conjunction with the BIO International Convention.  The first place winner receives a $7,500 cash award. Other awards include $5,000 for second place, $2,500 for third place, and $1,000 for fourth place. Each remaining finalist will receive a $500 Honorable Mention Award.

Virginia BioGENEius Challenge:

The Virginia BioGENEius Challenge, sponsored by ATCC, will be a “virtual science fair” challenge. Any student in a Virginia public or private high school (grades 9 to 12) currently enrolled in biology or science-related courses are eligible. Judging preference will be given to students that have competed in a regional or at the state science fair; or have competed in another science fair in the past 12 months. All students that apply will be required to submit a .pdf of their poster presentation for judging. Two finalists will be selected to represent the Commonwealth at the US National Challenge.

Application Process and Deadlines:

December 22nd, 2011

Applications Now Available For 2012 Intern Grants

The Virginia Bioscience Foundation (VBF), an initiative of the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO), is offering matching funds of $1,000 each for up to three summer internships. The criteria are as follows: The biotechnology or medical device company must be planning to match or exceed the $1,000 award for the intern and the intern must be currently enrolled in a Virginia institution of higher education or be a resident of the Commonwealth currently enrolled in an institution of higher education.Selection will be based upon the quality of the proposed internship experience. Applicants should outline the job description, the proposed salary for the position, the name, university affiliation and contact information for the intern and the likely start and end dates. Grants will be paid to the companies at the end of the internship experience once final documentation has been submitted to VBF.

Applications can be obtained here and must be completed and returned by March 15, 2012. The VBF was formerly known as the “Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation” or “C-BEF.” The name was changed in the fall of 2011 to better reflect the mission and geography of the foundation.

For additional details, please contact VBF at

October 31st, 2011

New Name for the Foundation!

The Board of Directors of the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation voted on Thursday, October 27th, to change the name of the four-year-old non-profit effective immediately. The new name will be the “Virginia Bioscience Foundation.”

“The board decided that the original name was too confusing,” said Mark Herzog, an officer on the board of the Foundation. “Some people thought that the activities of the Foundation were focused on Chesapeake, Virginia, rather than a larger geographic region as intended.”

The new name is more reflective of the Foundation’s mission and connection to the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO).

“The board is excited about the new identity and looks forward to developing the new identity,” said Mr. Herzog.

The website address for the Virginia Bioscience Foundation is

February 8th, 2011

2011 Science Fair Information

Each year, Virginia students compete at local, state, national and international science competitions. C-BEF supports young Virginians as they compete against their peers at all levels. Here are the details on the 2011 activities:

Local: There are eight local or regional science fairs in Virginia that are affiliated with the state and national/international competitions. Click here for details:

State: The Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair will be held at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, on April 2, 2011, with set-up on April 1, 2011. Registration must be completed online, using login IDs and passwords provided to regional fair winners. The fee is $ per student. For more information, please contact Dr. Charles E. Wilson, Jr., Director of the Fair, at, Details:

National/International: The 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair will take place May 8-13, 2011, in Los Angeles, California. Details:

2011 International BioGENEius Challenge: The International BioGENEius Challenge encompasses ten

BioGENEius Logo

(10) U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge finalists, two (2) Canada BioGENEius Challenge finalists and two (2) Western Australia BioGENEius Challenge finalists.  Each finalist will compete in the International BioGENEius competition held in Washington, DC, on June 27, 2011, in conjunction with the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO) Annual International Convention. Finalists will present their research poster and oral presentations to a panel of expert biotech judges and display their projects to approximately 20,000 convention participants.


February 8th, 2011

Governor McDonnell Announces “Top Jobs of the 21st Century” Higher Education Legislation

Legislation Creates Roadmap for Additional 100,000 Undergraduate Degrees

RICHMOND – At an afternoon press conference at the State Capitol,Governor Bob McDonnell formally announced his “Preparing for the Top Jobs of the 21st Century: The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011.”  This legislation follows the recommendations made by Governor McDonnell’s Higher Education Commission on Reform, Innovation and Investment at its December meeting at Virginia Commonwealth University. McDonnell was joined at the press conference by Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson, Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey and Virginia Tech President Dr. Charles W. Steger.  Also in attendance was former University of Virginia Rector Thomas F. Farrell II, who is Chairman, President and CEO of Dominion Resources and Chairman of the Higher Education Commission; and, Heywood Fralin, CEO of Medical Facilities of America, Inc. and Chairman of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council.  The “Top Jobs” omnibus bill is being patroned by Senator Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania), Senator Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg), Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Delegate Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg), and all four joined the Governor at the press event.  The legislation will be available later this week.

Speaking about the “Top Jobs” legislation, Governor McDonnell remarked, “Every student in Virginia deserves the opportunity to get a high-quality education at an affordable price.  Virginia’s higher education institutions are among the best in the nation. However, we must increase access and ensure that we are adequately preparing our students for the jobs of tomorrow when they graduate.  The ‘Top Jobs’ legislation will enable our institutions to meet the goal of issuing an additional 100,000 degrees over the next 15 years, making Virginia one of the most highly educated states in the nation. In fact, based on this legislation, for example, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors already is poised  to add nearly 1,000 new spaces for in-state students on the University’s grounds, and that’s great news. Our legislation also places a greater emphasis on the high demand science, technology, engineering and math subjects through the formation of a public-private partnership that will engage the business and professional community in leveraging best practices for K-12 and higher education.”

Governor McDonnell continued, “The legislation will create the framework for sustained reform-based investment and will encourage meaningful innovation through the use of greater technology, year round facilities usage and innovative and economical degree paths. By implementing these reforms, more Virginia students will have access to Virginia institutions.  These reforms will help us attract new employers to Virginia, and better prepare our citizens to fill the jobs that already exist in the state today.  We must do better in providing an affordable quality education in Virginia, and we must look to better capitalize on the resources already available at our great institutions.  This legislation is based on a clear understanding of what it takes to not only succeed, but to lead, in the 21st century economy – and, first and foremost, it takes a highly educated workforce.

The Governor added, “We have a good idea what this investment will produce for our state, because the Cooper Center’s comprehensive recent study, sponsored by the Business Higher Education Council, shows that every dollar we invest in the higher education system produces 13 dollars in additional economic output in Virginia.  It returns even more in new tax revenues to the Commonwealth than it costs.  So it is one of the very best economic investments we can make for our people. But we are not just investing; we are also innovating and reforming – and the two must go hand in hand.”

Delegate Kirk Cox remarked, “As a legislator, I believe reform and innovation are essential, even in a well run educational system like Virginia, because we live in times when the competition for tax dollars is fierce, and the competition for jobs and new business investment is ferocious.  And only the most lean and cost-efficient approach, only the most creative and innovative strategy, only the most transparent and accountable planning and performance, will enable us to sustain public support and legislative will and come out on top in this competition.”

Senator Edd Houck also noted, “There is much about our higher education system for which Virginians are justifiably proud.  We are all familiar with the steady string of national surveys that rank our colleges and universities among the very best in the nation.  Other surveys highlight the exceptional value that our colleges and universities provide the Commonwealth and its students.  At the same time, though, issues of affordability and accessibility are making the dream of higher education more and more difficult for low and middle-income Virginia families. Our system of higher education is at a crossroads. The time is now – right now – to take advantage of this singular opportunity for meaningful and comprehensive reform.”

Tom Farrell added, “Virginians can be particularly proud of the comprehensive and visionary nature of this initiative.  The thrust of the legislation – economic opportunity, reform-based investment and affordable access – provides us with a very clear roadmap of what must be done to assure Virginians that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, that their children have access to the best education possible, and that we are building the right foundation for job creation, business recruitment and economic success for the Commonwealth in years to come.”

Heywood Fralin remarked, “Growing companies go where the best educated and prepared workers live.  They follow research and innovation. They go where there is an excellent, efficient, accessible, and affordable higher education system.  Let’s continue to make that location Virginia year after year.”

Dr. Bill Harvey commented, “The Commission’s work and the resulting proposed legislation recognize the important role Virginia’s independent colleges and universities play in providing the Commonwealth a qualified workforce. The focused nature of the potential funding incentives will allow us to serve an even larger number of Virginia students in the coming years, particularly in the STEM disciplines, which will help attract and retain top employers.”

Dr. Charles Steger concluded, “Many times recently, I have said that higher education in Virginia has reached its “tipping point”.  With the introduction and passage of this legislation, the Commonwealth of Virginia is making a very clear and unequivocal statement about its priorities, and about the hopes and dreams of its citizens and especially its young people. This legislation recommits the Commonwealth to the principle of mutual trust and performance-based accountability that was at the heart of the restructuring initiative when it was launched five years ago.  It is vital that we restore that principle, as the Top Jobs bill does, rather than continue to chisel away at it.  The public colleges and universities in Virginia, according to JLARC, have met every expectation that was set for us under the Restructuring Act.  We appreciate the commitment of the Governor and these legislative leaders to make sure the Commonwealth does the same.”

About the “Preparing for the Top Jobs of the 21st Century: The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011”:

  • Based on recommendations of Governor McDonnell’s bipartisan Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment, which offered recommendations in 3 major areas:  greater economic opportunity and impact; reform-based investment; and affordable access for all capable and committed Virginia students.


Provides a roadmap for achieving an additional 100,000 undergraduate (associate and bachelor’s) degrees for Virginians over the next 15 years by (1) increasing enrollment of Virginia students, (2) improving graduation and retention rates, and (3) assisting students with some college credit to complete degrees through public and private higher education institutions in Virginia.

  • Focuses additional degree attainment in high-demand, high-income fields (e.g., STEM, healthcare) that are keys to top jobs in 21st Century economy.  Provides for creation of a not-for-profit STEM public-private partnership to fully engage the business and professional communities in the strategic direction and promotion of STEM initiatives.  Incentivizes public-private collaboration on STEM-related and other commercially viable research.
  • Higher education’s return on investment is second to none.  The Weldon Cooper Center’s study for the Virginia Business Higher Education Council shows that every 1 dollar currently invested in Virginia’s public higher ed system yields 13 dollars in increased economic output.  College graduates on average earn twice as much as those without college degrees.


  • Provides for sustained reform-based investment and innovation in delivery of higher education services, as well as extending college degree opportunities to more citizens in creative, cost-effective ways.  Institutions’ six- year plans will address strategies and use of incentives for:

o   Year round use of physical facilities and instructional resources

o   Technology-enhanced instruction and resource-sharing across the higher ed system

o   Innovative and economical degree paths

o   Ongoing restructuring and managerial reforms

  • Reverses the dramatic funding reduction cycle to higher education through a new comprehensive funding model framework with four components:  basic operations and instruction; enrollment growth funding; need-based financial aid (for low- and middle-income families); and financial incentives to promote innovation and increased economic impact.
  • Establishes a comprehensive and streamlined six-year planning process to aid college, university, and executive and legislative branch officials in implementing the long-term policies of the “Top Jobs” Act and in improving coordination among institutions and the Commonwealth.
  • Creates a collaborative Higher Education Advisory Committee consisting of executive and legislative branch representatives and representatives of higher education institutions to develop performance criteria for incentives, institution-specific base funding policies, economic opportunity metrics for degree programs, opportunities for additional, cost-saving managerial autonomy and efficiency reforms, and other key policies.


  • Provides enrollment-based funding to increase access for qualified Virginia students at public and private colleges and universities.
  • Enhances long-term affordability through a three-prong strategy:  (1) puts in place a model for stable and predictable state funding support, relieving the upward pressure on tuition over time as state funding rebounds; (2) provides for development of need-based financial aid options aimed at middle-income as well as low-income families; (3) creates a Revenue Stabilization Fund (higher education rainy-day fund) to help buffer higher education funding against future cuts that produce sudden and sharp tuition spikes during economic downturns.


February 8th, 2011

2011 Summer Internships

The Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation (C-BEF), an initiative of the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VaBIO), is offering matching funds of $1,500 each for up to five summer internships. The criteria are as follows: The biotechnology or medical device company must be planning to match or exceed the $1,500 award for the intern and the intern must be currently enrolled in a Virginia institution of higher education or be a resident of the Commonwealth currently enrolled in an institution of higher education.

Selection will be based upon the quality of the proposed internship experience. Applicants should outline the job description, the proposed salary for the position, the name, university affiliation and contact information for the intern and the likely start and end dates. Grants will be paid to the companies at the end of the internship experience once final documentation has been submitted to C-BEF.

Internship Grant Applications must be completed and returned by March 1st. For additional details, please contact C-BEF at

March 17th, 2010

2010 VA General Assembly Honors Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation

The following resolution commending the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation, sponsored by Delegate Chris Peace (R-Hanover), passed the Virginia House and Senate unanimously.


Offered January 27, 2010Commending the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation.

Patrons– Peace, Cosgrove, Loupassi and O’Bannon

WHEREAS, according to the National Academies of Science, the United States is falling dangerously behind other nations in developing its future workforce of scientists, engineers, and technology experts; and

WHEREAS, according to the national 4-H Council, a mere five percent of current United States college graduates earn science, engineering, or technology degrees, compared with 66 percent in Japan and 59 percent in China; and

WHEREAS, according to a survey by the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America (ASTRA), Virginia ranked twenty-fifth in the United States in the number of biochemists and biophysicists and twenty-ninth in the number of biomedical engineers per 100,000 civilian workers; and

WHEREAS, the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation (C-BEF), a Richmond, Virginia-based nonprofit organization, was formed to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula and to develop and promote programs to encourage young students to engage in the challenging work of math and science so that they are not precluded from subsequent career choices in the biosciences; and

WHEREAS, the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation funds summer internships for Virginia students to learn about careers in the life sciences; and

WHEREAS, the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation organizes and funds awards for excellence in the life sciences at the annual Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair; and

WHEREAS, the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation has made significant financial grants to expand the “Biotech in a Box” program at Virginia Tech, thereby materially increasing the number of schools and students who are able to benefit from the program; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, That the General Assembly hereby commend and congratulate the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation for its service to young people across Virginia; and, be it

RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates prepare a copy of this resolution for presentation to the board of directors of the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation as an expression of the General Assembly’s gratitude for the organization’s commitment to improving the quality of life for all Virginians.