Sign of things to come at Knight Campus

UO researcher’s work drives launch of spin-off, Penderia Technologies

By Matt Sayre, Contributor, The Register-Guard

The Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact is not scheduled to open officially until this fall; however, there are early indicators that it could have an outsized local economic impact, as well as a broader scientific one.

Once fully staffed, the Knight Campus will be home to about 300 full-time research staff members, 250 graduate students, 150 post-doctoral researchers and 150 undergraduates.

Keat Ghee Ong, Ph.D., is among the first 10 faculty members recently hired. Ong was recruited from Michigan Technological University and was attracted to the Knight Campus because of its unique approach to integrate research, training and entrepreneurship within a single interdisciplinary enterprise.

“Historically some academic institutions have focused just on research that can be published, and that wasn’t the focus of what I was looking for,” Ong shares. “It doesn’t hurt that Oregon is a really nice place in general, but when I originally heard about the vision for the Knight Campus and its unique strategy to accelerate scientific impact, I knew instantly that it was the place for me.”

University spin-offs

photo by Dustin Whitaker

The University of Oregon has helped to launch a number of successful spin-off companies over the past years, including Floragenex (now part of Sedia Biosciences), Invivo Biosystems (formally NemaMetrix) and Ksana Health, to name a few.

The term university spin-off refers to the process of forming startup companies around new research discoveries. In the case of the Knight Campus, these companies will predominantly be in the biotech industry sector, as bioengineering is the primary type of research that will be done at the site.

University-backed startup companies commercialize research discoveries to unlock their market value, both in terms of societal and economic impact. In 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act encouraged universities to develop and market innovations, with the support of federal funding.

The newest University of Oregon spin-off is Penderia Technologies, founded by Ong.

Penderia Technologies

Incorporated in 2020, Penderia Technologies is focused on commercializing medical sensors. The firm is currently at the prototype stage of new product development.

“The way health care is going right now, there is a real focus on personalized medicine. What this technology will eventually do is aid medical professionals in creating custom treatment plans for their patients,” Ong says.

Penderia Technologies’ medical sensor product allows doctors to monitor the progress of bone regeneration in patients who have had shoulder surgery, including the repair of a tear in the rotator cuff. With such tears, sometimes the tendon is torn away from the bone as a result of repetitive use.

For rotator cuff injuries that require stitching the tendon, the medical sensor can be embedded in the screw that reconnects the tendon to the bone via a suture. If the suture is too tight, it can tear off the bone again. If it is too loose, the injury may not heal properly.

“The sensor provides an objective and quantified measure of the tension force between the suture and the soft tissue,” Ong explains. It is that measure that can inform a more successful treatment plan for patients, including during the time the injury is healing.

The medical sensor is also small enough that it does not require a dedicated battery. It works similarly to the Radio Frequency ID (RFID) technology commonly used in retail.

A recent report from the State of Oregon Employment Department showed that the Eugene area is home to 107 biotech companies, making Penderia Technologies the 108th. These companies locally employ 1,105 people, accounting for more than $65,000,000 in annual wages.

With the addition of the Knight Campus, the University of Oregon is well positioned to create spin-off companies at an accelerated pace. Ong can see a clear path for Penderia Technologies to grow in Eugene over the next five to 10 years.

“It is very nice to be in a community with so many great entrepreneurs and exciting to be connected to an institution that is growing their support for us. It is a very unique and special situation,” Ong says.

Matt Sayre (matts@onwardeugene.org) is managing director of Onward Eugene. He believes that economic development done right means inclusive economic prosperity for Oregon.

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