Two successful drugs developed at the University of Houston have helped to usher in a new era, one in which moving inventions from the laboratory to the boardroom is increasingly seen as a goal.
“We are trying to identify really innovative, high-end technologies,” said Rathindra Bose, vice president for research and technology transfer at the University.
Once identified, his office can offer advice and, occasionally, a financial boost on the path to commercialization.
It’s a win for faculty members, their colleges and UH, who each receive a share of the profits if the research becomes a commercial success.
The University’s share of royalty income has grown dramatically over the past five years, reaching $16.6 million this year. That’s up from $1.1 million in 2008.
The money is used to support faculty research in a variety of ways, from covering the cost of patent protection for promising new technologies to setting up a new lab and stipends to defray the cost of publishing a book.
The increase primarily reflects the success of two drugs developed at least partially at UH ¬– Vimpat, an anti-seizure drug, and busulfan, a cancer medication – but Mark Clarke, associate vice president for technology transfer, said the share of the revenue produced by other UH ventures is growing.
To speed the growth, Bose, in conjunction with UH’s Standing Committee on Intellectual Property, launched the Technology Gap Fund earlier this year for faculty members who have developed technologies that are almost ready for commercialization. That was intended to help ease the often-difficult transition between a good idea to one able to attract outside investment.
Twelve faculty members submitted proposals, which were sent for external review. Three were chosen, receiving grants of $50,000 each.
Vincent Tam, a professor in the College of Pharmacy, said the gap funding is “absolutely instrumental” in pushing research to commercial viability.
Tam is working on a new antibiotic formulation, currently in small animals but he hopes headed to clinical trials. That would require collaboration with a pharmaceutical company, and he said several potential licensees are watching his progress and waiting for more data.
Jarek Wosik, a research professor of electrical and computer engineering and at the Texas Center for Superconductivity, and George Zouridakis, a professor of engineering technology in the College of Technology, also received grants.
Zouridakis said the funding will help expand and standardize a phone app he developed to quickly scan skin lesions and determine if they are cancerous. The app also can be used to screen for buruli ulcers, a flesh-eating bacterial disease.
He and his collaborators, including other UH faculty, are working to streamline the coding to ensure new applications, including one for ocular disease, can easily be added.
Wosik’s work involves the commercialization of high-temperature superconducting technology in magnetic resonance imaging coils, which offers significantly increased signal-to-noise ratio images and leads to better resolution and can shorten the time required for imaging.
Working with UH physicist Audrius Brazdeikis and researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center, Wosik said he needed the technology gap funding for the assembly of a proof-of-concept prototype for small animal imaging to demonstrate the benefits of the technology.
Bose said the goal of the Technology Gap Fund and of other strategies is to increase royalty payments to the University, as well as to faculty members and their colleges. But it goes beyond the money.
“I also look at the importance to society,” he said. “I think often people don’t connect the impact of our research with their daily lives.”
Knowing that research here results in an important technology or a new drug to treat cancer can drive that message home, he said.
“In my world, the university is a world where we should be creative. This is all about research and creativity.”