UChicago Tech’s work benefits research, faculty, societyBy Steve Koppes
When UChicagoTech has a success story about its work—the commercialization of the University’s intellectual property—the benefits of such enterprises are far-reaching. Not only do they impact the general public and benefit Chicago faculty, but also they help to continue the University’s research mission, said Alan Thomas, the University’s Director of Technology Commercialization and Licensing.
“Profitable ventures not only help to bring the fruits of scientific discovery to the benefit of the public, but they also provide additional resources needed to support the research engine here at the University,” said Thomas.
As UChicagoTech closes out its fifth year as the University’s technology transfer operation, the engine seems to be running in fine tune. Three breakthrough technologies developed at the University achieved milestones in quick succession with the aid of the UChicagoTech team who helped to broker the deals.
In 1993, R2 Technology licensed the University’s computer-aided detection system, known as CAD, for mammography. The system provided radiologists with “a second pair of eyes” to read mammograms. Trial data showed that more than 20 percent of cancers detected with traditional screening mammography could have been detected at an earlier stage by using CAD technology. The system was developed by faculty members Kunio Doi, the Ralph W. Gerard Professor in Biological Sciences and Professor in Radiology; Maryellen Giger, Professor in Radiology; Heber MacMahon, Professor and Section Chief of Thoracic Radiology; Charles Metz, Professor in Radiology; and Robert Nishikawa, Associate Professor in Radiology.
Five years later, R2 launched Image CheckerĒ and became the first vendor to gain clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use CAD with screening mammography. Since then, the firm has installed more than 2,500 Image CheckerĒ systems worldwide with 2005 revenues close to $45 million. Nine million women each year now have their mammograms interpreted with the aid of this system—saving thousands of lives annually through earlier detection of cancer.
In April, Hologic Inc., a developer, manufacturer and supplier of diagnostic and medical imaging systems, signed an agreement to acquire R2 Technology in a $220 million stock swap.
Midway Pharmaceuticals, a University start-up founded in 2005, develops non-antibiotic therapies for hospital-acquired infections and for a range of gastrointestinal diseases. The company’s therapies are based on a proprietary compound, polymer MDY-1001, developed by John Alverdy, Professor in Surgery; Eugene Chang, the Martin Boyer Professor in Gastroenterology; and Elaine Petrof, Instructor in Infectious Diseases. Delivered orally, the compound lines the gastrointestinal tract and inhibits the pathogenic behavior of bacteria.
In May, BioAdvance, an investor in early stage biotechnology companies, announced it had invested $500,000 in Midway Pharmaceuticals. The BioAdvance funding will be used to complete proof-of-concept and safety tests measuring the effects of MDY-1001.
In 1997, Arryx, Inc., licensed technology from the University that uses light and dynamic holography to form hundreds of optical traps to move and manipulate small objects. Former Professor in Physics David Grier developed this versatile tool for nanotechnology, which enables research and development in medicine and healthcare, as well as advances in optical communications and optical information processing.
In June, Haemonetics Corporation announced it would acquire Arryx Inc. for $26 million. Since 2004, Haemonetics and Arryx have collaborated in developing and commercializing proprietary blood-separation and processing technologies. The company’s first product, the BioRyx 200¨ system, handles cells and other objects in the laboratory.
Successful technology transfer developments such as these are becoming increasingly common and important at this and other research universities. Commercialization of discovery is a relatively recent priority in the 500-year history of academia. Raphael Lee, Chair of UChicagoTech’s Faculty Advisory Committee and Professor in Surgery, refers to technology transfer as becoming “the second major transformation in the history of universities.”
In the first transformation, universities embraced research for the creation of new knowledge as a key mission in addition to education. Now, universities are increasingly aware that the transfer of technology innovations back into society in the form of technology business opportunities enhances the return on society’s investment, Lee said.
Chicago is proceeding carefully in integrating technology transfer into the academic culture as it continues to value first and foremost the importance of ideas over just their commercial potential, Lee said.
In the face of strengthening foreign competition in the technology race, Senators Birch Bayh most the importance of ideas over just their commercial potential, Lee said.
In the face of strengthening foreign competition in the technology race, Senators Birch Bayh and Robert Dole sought to engage the previously uninvolved intellectual power of American universities into the U.S. innovation process with the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. This legislation provided a financial incentive for universities and their employees to engage in the commercialization of intellectual property developed from federal research funds.
In keeping with the spirit of the act, in 1987 the University established ARCH Development Corporation to provide a professional mechanism for technology transfer (UChicagoTech succeeded ARCH in 2001). Since then, the University has filed more than 2,400 patents, executed 266 license agreements, facilitated the formation of 46 companies and received more than $59 million in revenue.
Since 2001, part of that revenue has been shared with not only the inventors, but also with their research laboratories, departments and divisions. Moreover, these efforts have created many jobs.
Today, universities are increasingly becoming the hub of technology and business development in U.S. communities, reflecting the success of the Bayh-Dole vision, Lee said. He speculates about what wou-ld have happened for Chicago businesses had some version of the Bayh-Dole Act passed 50 years earlier. Its provisions would have covered patent number 2,708,656, filed by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard for a neutronic reactor.
“The University of Chicago would have owned the patents to sustained nuclear power generation, and the history of business development in the Chicago area would likely have been quite different,” Lee said.