Posted in UR Success Stories

Conjugate Vaccine Technology Saves Lives!

Licensing patents that result from University of Rochester research for commercial use is at the heart of technology transfer. A number of technologies licensed by the University of Rochester have gone on to save thousands of lives all around the world. These technologies not only changed the face of medicine, but reaffirm the University of Rochester’s reputation as a ground-breaking research institution.

One such technology that has influenced the world of medicine in a very big way is the Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) vaccine. The vaccine was based on innovative research that began in the 1970s at the Children’s Hospital at Strong (Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong). Dr. Porter Anderson, Ph.D., Dr. Richard Insel, M.D., and Dr. David Smith, M.D., were the first group of researchers to develop and test the concept of a “conjugate” vaccine, a method to make a vaccine more effective by linking it to a protein that would spur an infant’s immune system to fight an infection vigorously.

At the time, Hib was the leading cause of meningitis in children, as well as the primary cause of acquired mental retardation and acquired deafness in children.

After successful preliminary trials in the 1980’s, the group worked hard to persuade a pharmaceutical firm to license and develop the technology. However, industry was not concerned with vaccine research at this time, and the offer was declined. So the team, lead by Smith, founded Praxis Biologics to develop and commercialize the vaccine.

The Hib vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1990, and became one of the first vaccines, in 20 years, to be recommended by the FDA for universal use in children. Following the introduction of the Hib vaccine, illnesses caused by the disease, in the United States, have fallen from 20,000 cases a year to about 200 cases a year. The Hib vaccine, which virtually wiped out infection caused by the microbe, was a tremendous step forward for preventative medicine.

The second microbe to be targeted by the “conjugate” vaccine approach was Pneumococcus. This new vaccine was developed to prevent invasive infections by pneumococcal bacteria, which causes meningitis, ear infections, pneumonia, and other diseases in children under the age of two. Researchers estimate that in the developing world about one million people die each year of infections caused by the pneumococcal bacteria.

The vaccine was licensed and developed by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and introduced in 2000 as Prevnar. In February 2000, Prevnar was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the first conjugate vaccine to protect infants and children against bacterial meningitis, ear infections and pneumonia. At the time, Prevnar provided immunity to seven strains of the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae. In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that it be given to all children younger than two years.

From 1998-2001, the rate of infection among children less than two years of age, in seven cities around the nation, including Rochester, fell 69%.

In 2001, a second-generation Prevnar vaccine was tested on adults, specifically those 65 years of age and older, for protection against pneumonia. The research was part of an effort by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to find ways to improve the performance of vaccines in at-risk groups such as the elderly. The research proved that the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine was effective in fighting pneumococcal bacteria in the elderly and that it could be used to prevent pneumonia in both children and adults.

Today, Prevnar protects against 76 strains of Streptococcus pneumonia. The results of the vaccines efficacy are overwhelming and the number of lives it has saved is even more impressive, making Prevnar one of the most important vaccines on the market.

A third conjugate vaccine, aimed at preventing disease caused by the meningococcus microbe, is also based on this technology. This bacterium causes spinal meningitis and bloodstream infections that are extremely contagious and deadly. The vaccine is available in some parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.

The concept of the conjugate vaccine, first developed and tested by UR researchers in the 1970’s, has gone on to be one of the university’s most successful endeavors. The work done here has saved thousands, if not millions, of lives and has paved the way for vaccine research far into the future.

Posted in News

University of Rochester Formally Joins Global Network!

University of Rochester President Joel Seligman will meet today with representatives of the Worldwide Universities Network to sign an agreement and discuss a new relationship with a select group of research universities around the world.

“Our collaborations with the Worldwide Universities Network will open innumerable possibilities as the University engages with faculty and students across five continents,” said Seligman. “We expect the alliance to produce even more support for scholarly research and break the barriers that may keep people in different parts of the world from working toward common goals.”

Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) was established in 2000 with a mission to be one of the leading international higher education networks, collaborating to accelerate the creation of knowledge, and developing leaders who will be prepared to address the significant challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing world. The network now has 18 members, including Rochester.

WUN Chief Executive John Hearn and other WUN officials will participate in a series of meetings today with Seligman; Ralph Kuncl, University Provost and Executive Vice President; Peter Lennie, Senior Vice President and Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Science and Engineering; additional senior leaders at the University, and faculty researchers.

As part of the agreement, Seligman will represent Rochester on WUN’s Partnership Board and Lennie will join WUN’s Academic Advisory Group.

“Joining WUN signifies our conviction that we must be strongly coupled to the best researchers everywhere in the world,” Lennie said. “Our membership creates enlarged collaborative research opportunities for us and for our partners.”

WUN’s goal is to use the combined resources and intellectual power of its member universities to achieve collective international objectives and “to stretch international ambitions,” according to the network’s mission. Currently, the network has more than 30 research initiatives in its portfolio with several hundred research faculty involved. Additional faculty and graduate students participate in conferences, workshops, and virtual seminars that stem from WUN efforts.

Rochester is the only private American university invited to join WUN. Other U.S. institutions in the network are University of Washington, Seattle; Penn State University; and University of Wisconsin, Madison. The full list of universities includes: University of Alberta; University of Auckland; University of Bergen; University of Bristol; University of Cape Town; Chinese University of Hong Kong; University of Leeds; Nanjing University; Penn State University; University of Rochester; University of Sheffield; University of Southampton; University of Sydney; University of Washington, Seattle; University of Western Australia; University of Wisconsin, Madison; University of York; and Zhejiang University.

Contact: Sharon Dickman
585.275.4128; 585.281.9495 (cell)

Posted in F.I.R.E. Series

F.I.R.E. – February 9, 2012!!

The Offices of Technology Transfer, in cooperation with the Center for Entrepreneurship proudly present F.I.R.E. in February:

“TEN and HTR—Entrepreneur Programs and Services in 2012 “

This month we will be discussing some of Rochester’s greatest resources for entrepreneurs — The Entrepreneurs Network and High Tech Rochester. Our presenters will be Jean Kase, Executive Director of TEN and Mike Riedlinger, Commercialization Manager at HTR. Ms. Kase will discuss the Entrepreneurs Network and the upcoming Pre-Seed Workshop, and Mr. Riedlinger will discuss HTR, the services they provide, and upcoming events they are sponsoring. Come hear about the programs and services available through two UR affiliates to assist inventors, researchers, and entrepreneurs evaluate their business opportunities, learn from national and regional experts/serial entrepreneurs, and connect with business, technical and funding resources.

Where: the Class of ’62 Auditorium (G-9425 & 1-9425)
When: Thursday, 9 February 2012, 9:00 – 10:00 AM

Refreshments will be served. Please contact David Englert, or call585.784.8856 for more information or to register for this event.

Although the F.I.R.E. Series continues to be free and open to the public, a small fee for parking may apply (between $4 and $6). Registration would be appreciated by noon Tuesday, 7 February 2012.

Posted in News

The Power of Technology Transfer, By: Andreas Savakis, PhD

 Andreas Savakis, Ph.D. – ACE Fellow 2011-12, Professor of Computer Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology

As American Council on Education Fellow during 2011-12, I spent fall semester at the University of Rochester working with Provost Ralph Kuncl as my primary mentor.  My project explored Technology Transfer as a means of getting university research into the economy to both benefit society and create value through economic development.  I have been involved with Technology Transfer in various occasions, as a graduate student, researcher, faculty member and PI on sponsored grants.  More recently, as the nation strives to overcome the economic downturn, I became more interested in the role that universities can play in economic growth and decided to study the Tech Transfer process.  The topic turned out to be richer than I anticipated, as it draws from a number of areas including science and technology, business and entrepreneurship, law and public policy.  I really enjoyed the experience and would like to share some of my thoughts here.

The Research University’s Third Mission.  Given the primary mission of universities as institutions where knowledge is created and disseminated, the question naturally arises: What role can universities play in a knowledge economy?  Knowledge transfer takes place in many ways, formal or informal, that range from the hiring of well-educated graduates to publications and licensing.  Beyond knowledge transfer, universities contribute to the life of their communities by the number of people they hire, the amount of construction that they do, and the number of services that are needed for their students and employees.  An increasing number of universities, both public and private, are starting to view their role as extending beyond the traditional missions of teaching and research to include community outreach and public service through economic development and civic engagement.  Rochester is often cited as an example of a city that is surviving the downsizing of its manufacturing base due to its knowledge base, higher education institutions and potential for entrepreneurship.

Surprises about Tech Transfer. During the past decade, the number of University Technology Transfer Offices has dramatically increased and now just about every university that conducts research has a Technology Transfer office or at a minimum allocates some resources dedicated to patents and licensing.  What is surprising is that the focus of technology transfer has shifted from the sole purpose of generating revenue to the broader goal of getting the technology out to the market and making use of it for the broader good.  Another surprise was that majority of the revenue generated by licenses is based on a small number of big hits, which makes it extremely important to capture these ideas and bring them to market.  This is quite a challenge, because big hits are near impossible to predict at the early stages of research.  One approach to capturing ideas that have potential to become big hits is to create an environment that fosters and supports innovation, the Innovation Ecosystem.

 Supporting the Innovation Ecosystem.  Great discoveries start with great ideas and the first step in supporting the innovation pipeline is to harvest as many great ideas as possible.  Once the Innovation Ecosystem flourishes, great ideas are translated to patents, licenses and startups, and revenue follows.  However, it takes patience and commitment on the part of the institution, as it may take a long time to realize the revenue gains expected.  An established Tech Transfer Office can provide guidance and facilitate the movement of faculty research through the processes of patenting, marketing and licensing.  In addition, the tech transfer office staff can educate and advise faculty and students that have the potential to get involved in patents and startups.

Research is often conducted under a grant that focuses on the initial stages of discovery. When the project is completed, the research may be promising but not ready for commercialization.  There is a trend for universities to establish gap funds, also called maturation funds or technology development funds, which help bring research to the proof of concept stage.

Mechanisms to foster university startups include incubators, business plan competitions and entrepreneurs in residence. Once a startup is formed, it needs some initial capital until more significant Venture Capital funding is obtained.  These pre-VC funds are typically championed by local or regional initiatives that involve universities, industry and government.  Their objective is to contribute to the long term success of startups, which in turn grow the local and regional economies.

University-led initiatives are spreading in many areas of the US, from Silicon Valley and Boston, to San Diego, the North Carolina Research Triangle, Pittsburgh, Utah, Michigan, Texas and New York among many others.

Technology Transfer benefits for Faculty: While it is generally accepted that university research can be a catalyst for economic growth, it is often unclear what it means for faculty to participate in the Technology Transfer process.  When it comes to tenure and promotion, patents, licenses and startups are not a substitute for core research activities, such as publishing, presenting at major conferences, supervising graduate students and establishing a funded research program.

Tech transfer can complement and enhance the academic experience of faculty and their students.  It offers another outlet for their creativity and innovative ideas.  Additionally, when faculty become more engaged, a number of opportunities begin to emerge:  faculty become more attuned to open problems that are relevant to the needs of the market and generate more innovative ideas; they are more likely to collaborate with other researchers and form productive partnerships; they get in touch with industries interested in their work and promote their ideas more effectively, which increases the likelihood of licensing and revenue; they find joy and fulfillment when their research is used by others; and they can imagine a world that is made better by research.  And in Einstein’s words: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

I would like to thank the University of Rochester for graciously hosting me during fall semester 2011-12, the Rochester Institute of Technology for nominating me for the ACE Fellows Program, and the following Technology Transfer Offices that offered invaluable insights through conversations on Tech Transfer: Boston Univ., Carnegie Mellon, Case Western, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Vanderbilt, Emory, Northwestern, North Carolina State, Rice, Stanford, Univ. Michigan Univ. Rochester, Univ. Utah, Univ. California San Diego, Univ. Southern California.