OHSU breaks another record for tech spinoffs

Portland Business Journal Article

September 19, 2013

By: Elizabeth Hayes, staff reporter

Technology transfers at Oregon Health & Science University smashed records this year, with more patents applied for and issued, and more license agreements signed.

“It’s a win-win situation all around,” said Andrew Watson, director of technology transfer in OHSU’s Technology Transfer & Business Development department. “We’re able to move technology outside the walls of OHSU to a company that’s able to develop it. ”

There were 90 patent applications in 2013, up from 54 last year, while 98 industry-sponsored research agreements were signed, up from 81 the year before. License income rose to $2.63 million from $950,000 last year.

It was the second year that tech transfers reached an all-time high.

“They’re on a heck of a roll,” said Dennis McNannay, executive director of the Oregon Bioscience Association. “They’re doing world-class research and getting recognized worldwide.”

He said OHSU’s aggressive recruitment of researchers seems to have paid off.

Watson attributed the increases to the fact that his office staffed up a couple of years ago, meaning more people on the ground, as well as support from above.

“It has a lot to say about researchers and the administration at the university and the push for increased technology and commercialization,” Watson said. “It’s starting to dribble down from the highest levels to research and beyond.”

Watson also noted that government research funding has been drying up.

“One alternative is to partner with industry to bring in new sources of funding and bring in new revenue streams for the university,” Watson said.

One metric that fell was industry-sponsored research income, which was $7.26 million, down from $12.81 last year.

“It could be that companies are being a little more cautious in how they spend their money,” Watson said.

There’s also a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace, McNannay added.

“OHSU’s job, from a bioscience community standpoint, is to drive forward the basic science and incubate it to the point where it’s going to be commercial,” McNannay said. “Whether the soil is fertile for that depends on economic factors that are beyond their control.”

Here are a few of the success stories from this past year:

  • OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute announced it was working with Cepheid, a Sunnyvale company that specializes in advanced molecular diagnostics. The alliance includes an exclusive license to OHSU to intellectual property in prostate cancer and they are developing clinical oncology tests.
  • Lulu Cambronne, a postdoc at OHSU’s Vollum Institute and OHSU’s New Inventor of the Year, came up with the RISC-trap, a new lab technique to empirically identify specific micoRNA targets in cells. Sorting out the targets for a particular microRNA is a daunting challenge, but necessary in order to understand how it functions. The technology transfer office filed a patent and licensed Dr. Cambronne’s invention, which is now on the market.
  • The Food and Drug Administration approved a muscle and joint rehabilitation medical device developed by OHSU scientist Paul Cordo and AMES Technology, Inc.
  • OHSU’s Dr. Robert Peterka developed the Pulse-Step-Sine Rotation test that medical device manufacturer Neuro Kinetics Inc. licensed. The software helps researchers better understand abnormalities within vestibular systems. The test joins more than 30 diagnostic tests that neurologists and audiologists can perform.

Watson said it’s not just about blockbuster drugs.

“It takes small discoveries,” he said. “It’s all solutions to a problem.”
Elizabeth Hayes covers health care for the Business Journal.

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