Four companies were formed in fiscal year 2008 dedicated to translating discoveries by Oregon Health & Science University researchers into commercially viable products and services, the university’s Office of Technology and Research Collaborations disclosed today. This brings to 37 the number of OHSU startups incorporated since 2000.
The four companies are:
• Cascade LifeSciences, which is advancing technologies licensed from OHSU that could lead to therapeutic stem cell products for a wide array of human diseases. The technologies are based on breakthrough discoveries by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D., and his team at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, who have found novel ways to reprogram primate skin cells into embryonic stem cells. Two methods devised by Mitalipov – somatic cell nuclear transfer and parthenogenesis – can produce embryonic stem cells genetically matched to individual patients, thereby avoiding the risk of immune rejection. Cascade LifeSciences is a San Diego-based company.
• Flash Sensor Technology, a spinoff from Virogenomics Inc., an earlier OHSU startup, is developing biosensors capable of providing instantaneous point-of-care diagnoses using existing and new disease markers as they are discovered. The technology holds the promise of becoming the platform for the next generation of diagnostic devices. The collaborative research at OHSU by Arthur Vandenbark, Ph.D., and Rajendra Solanki, Ph.D., whose work on cell signaling interactions forms the basis of the company’s “lab on a chip” technology. Vandenbark is a professor of neurology and molecular microbiology and immunology at OHSU. Solanki, formerly of OHSU, is now at Portland State University. Flash Sensor Technology is based in Tigard, Ore.
• Genefac, Inc. is focusing on development and commercialization of a technology to detect in biologic samples the activity of multiple transcription factors – proteins that read and sequence genetic instructions in DNA. The technology – which was developed in the laboratory of William Mathers, M.D., Ph.D., and Zheng Ye, M.D., Ph.D., of OHSU’s Casey Eye Institute – uses small DNA probes containing a unique binding sequence of DNA called a motif. Genefac plans to market the technology as a test to identify in cancer biopsies the precise molecular profile of a patient’s cancer which could then be used as a guide for appropriate personalized therapy. Genefac is an Oregon-based company.
• Transmed Oncology Inc., an Arizona-based biotechnology company, has optioned two novel cancer therapeutics from OHSU. The first, a synthetic peptide called a bombesin receptor antagonist, is believed to have potential clinical utility in suppressing the growth of malignant cells in a wide variety of cancers, including lung cancer, bone cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma. The second is a small molecule chemotherapeutic which has shown potential as a treatment for prostate cancer. Transmed intends to move this and other potential drug candidates through clinical and regulatory processes as well as to develop and evaluate new cancer drugs.
There were five OHSU spinoffs in fiscal year 2007, three in 2006, six in 2005 and six in 2004. All told, OHSU research has resulted in 68 startups since the early 1970s. Twenty-one are based in Oregon and employ a total of 2,400 people. Another 600 are employed by the out-of-state spin-offs.
A number of recent OHSU startups have made notable progress:
One is MolecularMD, which was founded in late 2005. The privately held Portland-based company – which offers cancer diagnostic testing services based on the clinical research of OHSU’s Brian Druker, M.D., and Michael Heinrich, M.D. – has established a strong revenue base and recently close $3 million in venture capital financing through Ballast Point Ventures L.P. The company is tapping a rapidly growing market for molecular diagnostics that match specific individual patients with optimum medical therapies and dosages. The market is projected to grow to over $20 billion by 2010 as personalized medicine becomes a reality for an increasing number of patients. Druker, renowned for his role in developing Gleevec (Imatinib), the first effective molecular targeted medication against cancer, is director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Heinrich is interim head of hematology/medical oncology, OHSU School of Medicine, and section chief of hematology/medical oncology, Portland Veteran Affairs Medical Center.
Another is Najit Technologies Inc., one of the six 2004 startups. Najit is within two years of starting human clinical trials on a vaccine for yellow fever, says John Fitchen, M.D., its chief executive officer. The company, based in Portland, has been awarded an aggregate so far of $2.8 million in funding from the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health. The company’s focus is on the development of rapid, field-usable diagnostic assays and vaccines for infectious diseases that affect millions in developing countries. Najit also is addressing re-emerging diseases with bioterrorism potential such as smallpox and monkeypox. Its technology is based on discoveries by Mark Slifka, Ph.D., an associate scientist at OHSU’s Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute, who is Najit’s president and chief scientific officer.
Northwest Education Training and Assessment (NwETA), a 2005 OHSU spinoff, markets computer-based training programs and systems for administering neurobehavioral and psychological tests that are distinctive for being simple and intuitive, which gives them particular utility with children, those with little or no education, and no experience with computers. The systems are based on research in the laboratory headed by W. Kent Anger, Ph.D., senior scientist and associate director of the CROET (Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology); and Diane Rohlman, Ph.D., CROET staff scientist. The behaviorial tests measure attention, memory, learning and motivation and are used to identify neurotoxic disorders produced by exposure to chemicals in occupational and environmental settings. The training systems are used to educate workers – such as pesticide applicators, in-home care nurses, and vineyard workers – to prevent health and safety hazards. Since NwETA licensed the training and testing software from OHSU, the licensed products evolved by NwETA have been instrumental in bringing $3.1 million in new funding to the Anger-Rohlman OHSU lab and $145,000 to NwETA. In addition, an ‘angel’ investor has pledged, in return for the right to use the product, programming support to NwETA to re-write the testing program, which the company values conservatively at $250,000. An early prototype of the program is now in testing.
OHSU’s cutting-edge research has in the past decade propelled it into the top ranks of the nation’s academic medical centers. In fiscal year 2008, OHSU garnered $300 million in research awards from all funding sources, three times the total a decade ago.
OHSU’s Office of Technology & Research Collaborations (TRC), directed by Arundeep Pradhan, is the university’s bridge to industry. It supports collaborations with industry to facilitate research, licenses promising discoveries to industry, and aids in the creation of new companies based on OHSU research. It administers the Innovation & Seed Fund (ISF), designed to help spur the growth of Oregon’s nascent bioscience industry. The main components of ISF include the BioScience Innovation Program, which provides research and development funding for commercially promising technologies; the Springboard Program, which assists with initial startup costs; the Seed Program, which provides equity investment. The ISF is funded through the University Venture Development Fund established by the Oregon Legislature, which enables contributors to receive a tax credit for their support of OHSU’s commercialization activities.
For more information about TRC, go to www.ohsu.edu/tech-transfer/
Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and Oregon’s only academic health center. OHSU is Portland’s largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with 12,400 employees. OHSU’s size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.