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VOL. 124 | NO. 208 | Thursday, October 22, 2009

University Recognizes Innovations at Health Science Center

By Tom Wilemon

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AWARDS GALORE: Several patent plaques were distributed this week at the “Innovation Awards” ceremony on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation has recognized the work of professors at UT Health Science Center who are inventing new drugs, vaccinations, medical devices and research tools.

The “Innovation Awards” luncheon ceremony earlier this week was a celebration of scientific achievements at the Memphis campus and also a call to action. Increasingly, university officials are identifying the licensing of scientific discoveries as way to offset state funding cuts.

“If we look at the future, all of us have felt the sting of budget cuts and budget reductions,” said Dick Gourley, dean of the college of pharmacy at UTHSC. “I’m frankly convinced that our future is in intellectual property in terms of growth and development.”

Funding issues

The Health Science Center this fiscal year generated $1.1 billion in licensing revenue, filed 37 patent applications and had nine patents issued. It was also the petri dish for a number of startup companies.

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation recently was restructured to allow more engagement with individual campuses across the state. It also revised its policy for sharing licensing income. The new policy allows upfront payments to inventors and clarifies whom income is shared with and the location responsible for the innovation.

Gourley, who delivered the opening and closing remarks at the Monday ceremony, pushed for the changes. At a similar ceremony last December, he questioned why the Memphis campus the previous year had received 57 percent of the foundation’s disbursements when its discoveries had accounted for 79 percent of revenue.

Steve Schwab, the interim chancellor for UTHSC, said in a keynote address that discoveries and innovations are part of the campus goal for putting all its colleges in the top 25 percent ranking for academic medical institutions.

The companies started from campus discoveries that received recognition were Vaxent Inc., ARISTE Medical and Varigenix.

Help wanted

Vaxent is a company using technology developed by Dr. James B. Dale for a vaccine for group A streptococcus, a bacterium often found in the throat or on skin that can cause strep throat. The company earlier this year was named one of six finalists for the Best Prophylactic Vaccine award by the World Vaccine Congress.

ARISTE, a company begun by Dr. Lisa Jennings and Dr. Tim Fabian, is developing a drug delivery system that may be applicable to a wide variety of implantable devices. The system is intended to prevent infections with stents and other devices used to treat vascular disease.

Varigenix, a company founded by Drs. Rob Williams and Bob Scott, has a technology for producing genetically diverse mice that can be used for drug testing, potentially speeding the pre-clinical calendar for new medicines.

Patent plaques and maturation grant awards also were distributed to several professors.

Gourley is now a cheerleader for the UTRF. He said the foundation is crucial to the Health Science Center’s goals.

“The only we way can get there is to have more of you sitting in this room – more licenses, more patents, more startup companies,” he said. “That’s got to be the goal of the Health Science Center. Now for UTRF to participate in that and to accomplish that, we need your help – meaning if there are things that you see that we should be doing and we’re not doing, you need to let us know.”

The innovation awards are held each year.

“I look forward to this room ... overflowing and looking for a larger room next year,” he said.

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