By: Steve Dewhurst, Chair of Micro and Immuno, URMC
An important part of why I became an academic researcher, at a major medical center, was for the opportunity to contribute to influential discoveries that have the ability to affect the lives of others in a positive way. Publishing papers, attending scientific meetings, and lecturing at seminars are all expectations that researchers must meet – but none of these are reasons why I became a scientist. More important is the creation of new knowledge and applying that knowledge to answer important scientific questions. I’m especially excited about using the scientific expertise gained from experiments run in my lab to develop new treatments and cures for diseases.
Technology Transfer plays a vital role in that process. At its core, technology transfer is aimed at developing discoveries made in the lab and translating them into tangible products that can be marketed and sold to improve lives. An incredibly successful example of the technology transfer process was the development of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine. At first the vaccine was only a theory in a lab, but after a successful partnership with the biotech industry the theory became a reality. Eventually the technology matured into a mass-produced, licensed vaccine against cervical cancer. The underlying science, which included pioneering work done by Dick Reichman, William Bonnez, and Bob Rose at the Medical Center, transformed healthcare for women worldwide. This ground breaking technology was made possible because inventions were created, patents were filed (and awarded), and a complex commercialization process was successfully navigated.
These are all things that the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) does superbly.
In my own research, I collaborate with a broad range of faculty members (including Handy Gelbard, Sanjay Maggirwar, Burns Blaxall, Brad Nilsson and several others), postdoctoral fellows, and students. Collectively, we’ve come up with a number of new ideas on which we’ve submitted invention disclosures to OTT. From these discoveries have come a number of issued patents and significant new funding. The latter includes NIH SBIR and STTR awards that were funded in collaboration with a UR startup company. In addition, CTSI incubator funding was recently awarded to Burns and translational NIH P01 funding was awarded to Handy.
OTT has given me the opportunity to develop new therapies for neuroAIDS (with Handy and Sanjay) and heart failure (with Burns and Handy), and has allowed me to collaborate with outstanding medicinal chemists with expertise in drug development at Califia Bio in San Diego (led by Val Goodfellow). Currently, we’re working to develop new partnerships with different biotech companies, with the goal of exploring new ideas related to HIV vaccine development. Again, OTT has been incredibly helpful in this process. They’ve provided advice along the way, executed material transfer agreements when necessary, and drafted other legal documents essential for working effectively with industry.
The bottom line is, over the past several years, I’ve found the Office of Technology Transfer’s hard work, knowledge, and understanding of the patenting process to be invaluable. I expect my relationship with OTT to grow and I’m eager to work – even more closely – with them in the future. NIH’s increasing emphasis on translational research (e.g. the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)) will raise the importance of NIH-funded scientists developing new medicines, diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. This new focus is going to require – more than ever before – close collaboration with those who truly understand the technology transfer process.