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October 27, 2011

OTM celebrates record number of Pitt invention disclosures

In its annual Celebration of Innovation, Pitt’s Office of Technology Management (OTM) recognized 60 faculty members, staffers and students whose innovations were licensed or optioned to industry or startup companies in fiscal year 2011. The Pitt Innovator Awards were presented Oct. 12 at the University Club.

Among those at this year’s annual Celebration of Innovation  were, from left: Provost Patricia Beeson; Samir Saba, medicine; Marlin Mickle, computer and electrical engineering,  and Ajay Ogirala, also of computer and electrical engineering.

Among those at this year’s annual Celebration of Innovation were, from left: Provost Patricia Beeson; Samir Saba, medicine; Marlin Mickle, computer and electrical engineering, and Ajay Ogirala, also of computer and electrical engineering.

“It was a great year,” said OTM director Marc S. Malandro, associate vice chancellor for Technology Management and Commercialization.

Approximately 375 individuals were involved in a record 257 invention disclosures submitted in FY11, an increase of 14 percent from the year before. Disclosures are the first step on the pathway toward commercializing research developed at the University.

According to OTM’s annual report, 87 new patent applications were submitted in FY11, an increase of 26 percent, and 37 patents were issued, an increase of 12 percent.

Licensing and other revenue totaled nearly $6.17 million, including $3.82 million in licensing, $2.28 million in legal fee reimbursements and $18,724 in equity sales.

The 2011 results bring invention disclosures to 2,322 since 1996, when OTM was established. In the past 15 years, 961 patent applications were submitted, 441 patents were issued, 80 startups were spun out of the University and 685 licenses/options were executed.

Two startups were formed in FY11: Ortho-Tag, which uses engineering professor Marlin Mickle’s radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track and monitor implanted artificial joints, and LINC Design, which is based on a barrier system for wheelchairs on transit vehicles. The latter innovation was developed by Linda van Roosmalen, a visiting faculty member in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, and collaborator Michael Turkovich.

Five OTM initiatives were started in fiscal year 2011:

• A life science startup accelerator program, which helps life sciences companies commercialize Pitt-based innovations. The partnership between the University, the Idea Foundry and the Urban Redevelopment Authority is funded by URA and a $200,000 Keystone Innovation Zone grant.

• An executive-in-residence program, in which entrepreneurs with startup business experience shepherd commercially viable innovations to market. (See Sept. 29 University Times.)

• A Coulter translational partnership, in which the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation has awarded a five-year, $3.5 million grant for collaborative translational research projects between clinicians in the Health Sciences schools and the Swanson School of Engineering. (See Sept. 29 University Times.)

• A mentoring and other startup initiatives program that supports innovators as they move their innovations to market. The program is funded in part by a Pennsylvania Innovation Partnership grant.

• The Wells Student Health Care Entrepreneurship Competition. Winners of this competition for health sciences student-entrepreneurs are paired with business mentors, who help prepare them to participate in the technology showcase at the University’s annual science symposium. The competition is funded by the Michael G. Wells Entrepreneurial Scholars Fund.

As evidenced by the record number of disclosures, more innovators are interested in participating in technology transfer and commercialization of their work.

Increasingly, faculty are viewing the continuum of research as ending not with publication of results, but with a product, Malandro said.

Faculty want their research results to be as broadly applied as they can be, but often lack time — especially in a difficult funding environment when the importance of writing grants is magnified. He said they need to know that their time investment in commercialization will be worth it.

OTM’s reputation is growing as innovators see results emerging from the pipeline that’s been primed over the office’s 15-year history.

Malandro pointed to two Pitt-based startups with products that are poised for the marketplace: Cohera Medical and ALung Technologies.

Cohera, which spun out in 2006, last month won approval to sell its TissuGlu surgical adhesive in the European Union. The product was developed by engineering faculty member Eric Beckman and former dental medicine faculty member Michael Buckley. The company is pursuing FDA approval and plans trials in the United States next year.

ALung’s Hemolung catheter-based lung assistance device likewise is being used in Europe and is poised for U.S. clinical trials next year.

The company spun out in 2001, based on the respiratory dialysis technology developed by William Federspiel, director of the medical devices laboratory at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and a professor in the departments of chemical and petroleum engineering, surgery and bioengineering, in conjunction with the late Brack Hattler, a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Malandro said he expects to see startups and the number of technologies out the door increase under the new OTM initiatives. “We should see several products coming on the market every year,” Malandro said.

“Our whole goal is to get as many products out there as possible that can help people.”

Noting that the executive-in-residence and life sciences accelerator programs are bearing fruit, he said further cultural changes are possible with the new Coulter funding, which Malandro said would build bridges between Pitt’s upper and lower campuses. The partnership will connect engineering and health sciences faculty with the goal of translating research into practical applications. The Coulter grant “allows a number of people to focus all their energy in a specific direction” — toward moving technology to the marketplace, he said. “We saw with the Coulter process we could learn a lot from them on how to do medical device translation a better way.”

The culture of innovation also is growing through word of mouth among innovators themselves, said Malandro, who added that trust is developing. “They feel confident that if they disclose, [their innovation] will be properly looked at and properly managed,” he said.

“Everyone knows that the University had the technology transfer office,” he said, crediting the faculty as central to increasing success. “Where it’s working comes from colleagues.”

He noted that OTM’s 15-year history “is a really short time in technology transfer,” given that the Bayh-Dole Act, which enabled universities to commercialize intellectual property arising from federal funding, was put in place in 1980.

“In a short time, we’ve had some really great results,” he said. “Fifteen years is just building the foundation from which we can spring forward.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 5

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