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Technology transfer efforts bolstered by recent agreements

Mar. 28, 2013, 10:20 AM

Last month, Vanderbilt University announced a collaboration agreement with GlaxoSmithKline, a leading pharmaceutical and consumer health care company, to develop potential new drugs for severe obesity.

The agreement was based on research by Roger Cone, Ph.D., and colleagues at Vanderbilt, which has received major support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Roger Cone, Ph.D.

Financial details were not disclosed, but the agreement is the latest in a string of high-profile efforts engineered with the help of Vanderbilt’s Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization (CTTC) that are bringing the fruits of academic research to the marketplace.

Successful technology transfer means greater “notoriety” and more revenue for the University, said Alan Bentley, assistant vice chancellor for Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Protection.

In that respect, he said, the first quarter of fiscal year 2013, July through September, “was better than any year we’ve ever had in the history of this office.”

Alan Bentley

For the scientist, tech transfer means more freedom. “The GSK collaboration brings a whole host of chemistry tools and expertise to our discovery efforts,” said Cone, chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and Joe C. Davis Chair in Biomedical Science.

“Our tech transfer has really ramped up,” he said. “They’re going out and finding deals for faculty. They’re doing an amazing job.”

Several other agreements were hammered out by Vanderbilt in the last six months.

• In September, the University announced a major license and collaboration agreement with global biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb to discover and develop potential new drugs for Parkinson’s disease.

The agreement was based on studies by P. Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., and his colleagues in the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD), which has obtained major support from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

• In October, Parker Hannifin Corp., a global leader in motion and control technologies, announced an exclusive licensing agreement with Vanderbilt to commercialize exoskeleton technology developed by Michael Goldfarb, Ph.D., and his colleagues in the Center for Intelligent Mechatronics.

The powered exoskeleton enables people with severe spinal cord injuries to stand up, walk and climb stairs. “Think of our exoskeleton as a Segway with legs,” Goldfarb, the H. Fort Flowers Chair in Mechanical Engineering and professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said in a news release.

• In January, the University announced a major license and collaboration agreement with another biopharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca, to explore development of potential new drugs for schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

This is the third major agreement to come out of the VCNDD in the past four years, said Bentley, who came to Vanderbilt in 2011 from the Cleveland Clinic.

These partnerships reflect both “the strength and quality of the research performed by Vanderbilt’s talented researchers, and the commitment of Vanderbilt’s leadership to leveraging Vanderbilt innovation for public benefit,” he said.

Between the 2010 fiscal year and FY12, the CTTC’s professional staff doubled in size, licensing revenue jumped from $5.5 million to $9 million, and the office set a new record for invention disclosures, with 190. “We expect new records in dollars and disclosures for the current fiscal year,” Bentley said.

Cross-campus cooperation is crucial. The GSK deal, for example, was “a triumphant display of collaboration” between CTTC, the Medical School’s Office of Contracts Management, and the University’s Office of the General Counsel, he said.

At a time when the level of continued federal funding for research is, at best, uncertain, corporate funding becomes increasingly important. Patents, licenses and research agreements increase the chances that great ideas make it to market where they can benefit people.

That’s Bentley’s message for faculty. “If you have an idea, you don’t need to know what a patent is. You don’t need to know what rises to the level of an invention,” he said. “If you think you’ve got something, just give us a call.”

For more information, contact the CTTC at 343-2430 or q

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