UTMB researchers are making invaluable discoveries. However, how do the researchers get their breakthroughs out of the laboratory and into the marketplace?
One of UTMB’s goals is to support its researchers and promote technology transfer and commercialization of their research discoveries. Under the direction of Dr. David L. Callender, president of UTMB, the Office of Technology Transfer and the Office of Research created the Technology Commercialization Program (TCP) in 2014 to provide seed funds to support the commercialization of UTMB discoveries. The funds for the TCP come from the President’s Royalty Fund, which holds the proceeds from royalties of licensed UTMB technologies.
The TCP raises visibility for the cutting-edge work conducted by UTMB researchers. This program also supports their endeavors, inspires them to think about commercialization and provides them a tool to help with commercialization of their technology.
“This royalty fund helps our researchers to secure funding at a time when funding is scarce,” said Sundeep Mattamana, director of the UTMB Office of Technology Transfer. “They have completed compelling studies that established proof of concept but need gap funding to develop their technology to the point where they will be more attractive to venture capital investors or to companies.”
For its first peer-reviewed funding awards, the TCP awarded $50,000 to four projects that have strong potential to provide meaningful health care benefits and be commercially licensed.
Program finalist Stan Watowich said, “As we move our discoveries from the lab to the market, we hope our success encourages new partnerships between local investors and the growing biotechnology industry in Galveston and Houston.”
Additional proposals are currently under review, and a second round of awards is expected in spring 2016.
The funding award winners and their technologies:
Allosteric Modulators as Neurotherapeutics
Kathryn Cunningham, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and director of the Center for Addiction Research
Jia Zhou, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Millions of people across the globe suffer from cocaine-use disorder. We have identified the serotonin 2C receptor as a brain protein that, under conditions of low activity, drives cocaine intake as well as other traits that promote relapse to cocaine use. Improving the function of this serotonin receptor has the potential to reduce cocaine taking and seeking. The award is supporting preclinical studies, which will establish key data required for the FDA. These compounds may also prove useful in depression and obesity/eating disorders.
Optimization of a Revolutionary New Chikungunya Vaccine
Scott Weaver, Ph.D., professor of Pathology and Microbiology and Immunology, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity
We have leveraged the discovery of a new mosquito-specific virus called Eilat to develop a new vaccine platform for chikungunya virus, which has emerged in the Americas to cause nearly two million cases of debilitating disease. Once this vaccine is optimized for human use, it will represent a revolutionary advancement that combines a high degree of safety with rapid and long-lived immunity to protect against an emerging disease of global importance.
New Heterocyclic Small Molecule Inhibitors of Dengue Virus
Stanley Watowich, Ph.D., associate professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
This early-stage funding from UTMB will accelerate our efforts to develop antiviral drugs that prevent and treat mosquito-borne dengue disease, which affects over 100 million people each year. Dengue antivirals are important for protecting American health, since the mosquito that transmits dengue virus has spread north from the tropics and is now causing dengue virus infections in Florida and Texas.
Acetylcholine Receptor Binding B Cells as Biomarker for Myasthenia Gravis
Dr. Premkumar Christadoss, professor of Microbiology and Immunology
Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that afflicts about 60,000 people in the U.S. and nearly one million worldwide. Currently, there is no readily available tool for early diagnosis, prognosis, predicting disease severity or response to treatment. In collaboration with Duke University and our commercial partner, Immune Globe Biotech, we are developing a new diagnostic and biomarker assay for this disease. Development of our diagnostic is critical for phase II clinical trials with a larger group of myasthenia gravis patients.