Although solving the world’s most daunting health challenges is a formidable task, the UC Davis School of Medicine rises to the challenge by ensuring its medical breakthroughs move from the confines of academia to the community at large.
“Our school is a catalyst for medical innovation,” says Lars Berglund, senior associate dean for Research at the medical school. “We have the brain power, state-of-the-art hospital and physician systems, creative business leaders, welcoming communities and a history of collaboration among industry, academia and government that nurtures new ideas.”
The key process for taking these discoveries toward the marketplace is technology transfer. The UC Davis Office of Research, which works with faculty at the medical school and elsewhere on campus, now offers commercial licensing of more than 650 technologies, encompassing biotechnology, veterinary and human medicine, computer science, engineering, optics, agriculture, transportation and other fields.
The Technology Management and Corporate Relations unit of the UC Davis Office of Research guides faculty members through the patent application maze and helps make essential connections to convey discoveries to the commercial marketplace. The office’s successes include a recent innovation spearheaded by UC Davis researchers with potential to help children and adults with status epilepticus, a prolonged epileptic seizure that constitutes a life-threatening medical emergency. Boston pharmaceutical company SAGE Therapeutics licensed rights to commercialize the treatment that UC Davis neurologist Michael Rogawski and his colleagues have pioneered.
“The success of SAGE Therapeutics demonstrates how our support of research technology developed by UC Davis faculty, in collaboration with a startup enterprise, can make a dramatic impact in people’s lives. That’s what’s so exciting about our biomedical innovations,” says Dushyant Pathak, UC Davis associate vice chancellor for Technology Management and Corporate Relations in the Office of Research.
Pathak’s division encompasses three units:
- InnovationAccess, which manages patents, licenses and intellectual property;
- Venture Catalyst, which helps stimulate and guide creation of startups and spinouts based on university-developed technology; and
- Office of Corporate Relations, which develops and manages broad-based, campuswide corporate alliances.
“Our office seeks out and identifies synergies that cut across disciplines, schools and colleges, and facilitates effective engagement of companies with the right partners amongst our faculty,” Pathak says. “The Office of Research is the only unit within the university with a mandate that crosses all disciplines, schools and colleges to interface our research enterprise with the external infrastructure of commercialization.”
Berglund regards cross-disciplinary collaborations as fundamental to successful investigations.
“UC Davis is a more complete university than many other institutions because of its strength in multiple areas, including medicine, veterinary medicine, nursing, engineering and biological sciences. That sets us up to establish unique partnerships. But we must first find areas where people can come together in ways that are logical, that aren’t forced,” Berglund says.
To nurture such collaborations, the campus and the University of California have established numerous networks, including
- the Clinical and Translational Science Center, which Berglund administers;
- UC Biomedical Research Acceleration, Integration and Development (UC BRAID) in which Berglund and Rogawski hold leadership roles;
- the UC Center for Accelerated Innovation;
- UC Ventures, and
- the Center for Information Tech-nology Research in the Interest of Society in which UC Davis neuromuscular specialist and inventor Jay Han holds a leadership role.
Big data’s potential
Multidisciplinary teams can lend fresh perspective in examining and overcoming obstacles, in the view of Thomas Nesbitt, UC Davis Health System associate vice chancellor for Strategic Technologies and Alliances. He regards “big data” as an important area that warrants attention.
“We are producing large amounts of data that often are not analyzed and not translated into actionable clinical information. A single person’s genome profile consists of a tremendous amount of data, and then there’s patient-generated data, from devices such as personal activity trackers. If analytics are applied, all of those data could be turned into actionable information,” says Nesbitt, who is director of the Center for Health and Technology.
“For each patient in an ICU, each beep represents a data point. Is it possible to begin to analyze all that data to better determine how to improve the care of patients?”
Catalyst of Bayh-Dole Act
The impetus to explore potential commercial solutions to those and other intriguing questions likely wouldn’t exist at UC Davis or any other research university that receives federal research funds, were it not for the 1980 passage of the landscape-altering Bayh-Dole Technology Transfer Act. That legislation authorized universities to take ownership of inventions made by academic researchers with funding from the federal government and grant licenses to companies to commercialize such discoveries.
“The Bayh-Dole act triggered a gigantic increase in patents filed by U.S. universities. Passage of the Bayh-Dole Act was a seminal event in creation of tech transfer activities at universities,” observes David McGee, executive director of UC Davis InnovationAccess.
Provisions of the act included the stipulation that the university must share royalties with faculty inventors. “The Bayh-Dole Act specifies that as a condition of ownership of intellectual property, universities agree to earnestly pursue marketing of patented faculty inventions.”
Now, faculty members submit a “record of invention” to the UC Davis InnovationAccess team, which determines whether the university has ownership in the invention described and if the university will file a patent application for that invention. Faculty members receive a portion of net income generated by their inventions.
The Office of Research has, during the past half-dozen years, evolved into a one-stop shop for evaluation of patent potential, patent filings, technology licensing, commercialization management and other vital technology transfer functions. McGee attributes the evolution of the Office of Research to the entrepreneurial leadership of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, an electrical engineer who holds 19 radio transmission device patents.
“Chancellor Katehi instilled within faculty across the campus the importance of entering into the technology transfer process, fostering and supporting interest in startup companies, and working with companies in general,” McGee says.
University research funding and technology transfer also are important for other reasons.
“The vast majority of our innovations take place in the research labs and workshops of this nation’s universities,” Katehi observes. “University research translates into more than just new ideas. It is directly responsible for jobs, economic health, and the long-term competitiveness of our state and nation.”
Cary Adams, founding chair of the Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance, on whose board of directors he serves along with Pathak, agrees that UC Davis has a pivotal role in maintaining the momentum of the area’s thriving medical technology industry. The group was founded in 2001 jointly by the Sacramento Metro Chamber, the Golden State Capital Network, and UC Davis Connect, which was later incorporated into InnovationAccess.
“We at SARTA believe that much of the knowledge discovery taking place at UC Davis can be commercialized, and we want to help make that an efficient process. We try to bring all the resources that a startup needs – a network, access to training programs, and connections with people who can help them fill out their team,” says Adams, who chairs the group’s six-year-old MedStart initiative, which encourages development and commercialization of pharmaceuticals and diagnostic, tele-medicine and treatment technologies.
“We have in our community strength in research and supportive industry clusters in areas that will transform medicine over the next decade or two. They include regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, telehealth, and molecular imaging,” Adams says. “Our region has unique resources that create a tremendous opportunity to build very successful industry clusters that can do a lot of good for our community, for UC Davis, and for the world.”