Bringing new drug therapies to life

A variety of pills

When the prescription drug abacavir, developed in University of Minnesota labs by Robert Vince, Ph.D., gained federal approval in 1998 and appeared on pharmacy shelves under the brand name Ziagen, it gave new hope to those with HIV. Today, the 1.2 million people the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates live with HIV nationwide have access to this treatment.

Bringing a breakthrough treatment like abacavir to the people who need it takes more than a groundbreaking scientific discovery — researchers must also work to refine their new treatments, bring them through clinical trials and help them reach the market.

Today, the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development (ITDD), founded by the  U’s College of Pharmacy in 2007, provides the expertise and instrumentation researchers need to bridge the gap between a compelling pharmaceutical idea and a market-ready drug treatment. The institute is a resource for the over 1000 biomedical researchers at the U of M and Mayo Clinic whose work may lead to the next breakthrough drug therapies. Continue reading

Top 10 Inquiry stories of 2016

Block numbers 2016

For the University of Minnesota, the completion of 2016 marks another year of advancing knowledge, forming new partnerships and making groundbreaking discoveries.

The Inquiry blog, led by the Office of the Vice President for Research, set out to explore such strides in research and innovation when it launched more than two years ago. Its path has since woven across departments and disciplines, delving into everything from varieties of wine grapes that withstand the cold to the microscopic communities of bacteria that live inside of us.

Before we bid farewell to 2016, here’s a look back at the year’s 10 most-read Inquiry stories. Continue reading

Lab tests structural strength against earthquakes, other natural forces

Building destroyed by earthquake

In late August, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake devastated Central Italy, killing hundreds and injuring hundreds more. The quake also demolished many structures, destroying homes and buildings of historic and cultural importance.

When it comes to earthquakes and other natural disasters, designing structures to be resilient against environmental forces can help limit the resulting damage. Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Multi-Axial Subassemblage Testing (MAST) Lab can test how structures and building components hold up against the strain of enormous natural forces, from simulated earthquakes to tornadoes to soil pressure. The lab, originally supported for 15 years by grants through the National Science Foundation, is part of the College of Science and Engineering’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering.

Mounted at the top of the MAST Lab’s testing area is a steel crosshead that precisely twists, compresses and stretches large structures through six components of movement or forces. The equipment, driven by specialized software, allows researchers to simulate the many forms of stress that building materials and components might experience not only from natural forces, but from the weight of the structure itself. The lab can test structural components nearly 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and exert up to 1.3 million pounds of vertical force — enough to lift an Airbus A380 jet airliner, plus its passengers and cargo, off the ground.

Continue reading

Industry experts, public invited to tour U research labs

Interested in exploring a few of the University of Minnesota’s world-class research facilities?

Next week, the U’s College of Science and Engineering and Office of University Economic Development will hold an open house of 10 research facilities specializing in materials analysis, molecular analysis and device fabrication. Register now to tour research facilities, speak with subject matter experts, discover ways to connect with collaborators, and learn about access to services and research equipment.

All are welcome to attend, from industry R&D experts to those who just want to learn more about research at the U. After checking in at the Physics and Nanotechnology Building at 115 Union St. SE. on the East Bank Minneapolis campus, visitors are welcome to come and go as they please. Continue reading

Time-saving tools for partnering with industry

As federal funding for research becomes less certain, University of Minnesota faculty and staff are increasingly forming partnerships with business and industry to move their research forward. In exchange, partnering companies benefit from researchers’ world-class expertise, along with the U’s cutting-edge research infrastructure.

The University offers a set of time-saving research agreements to help faculty and staff in starting new partnerships with industry. These agreements include considerations such as how to manage the data gathered through research, how to publish the results and how to handle any resulting intellectual property.

Researchers are encouraged to use the resources below to speed up the contract process and leave more time for actual research. Continue reading

U genomics, computing helps PepsiCo supercharge crop research

Stevia leaves

PepsiCo is exploring new ways to improve the flavor of foods and beverages sweetened with stevia. Recently, the company needed genetic data for the all-natural sweetener, but generating it would have taken their research and development labs up to two months.

Instead, they got the data in a few days.

The food and beverage company behind brands like Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats and Tropicana has supercharged its research to develop better agriculturally sourced ingredients, like oats, potatoes and oranges through an ongoing partnership with the University of Minnesota. Continue reading

Grad students gain business experience in fellows program

Interns in a meeting

There’s no substitute for experience. Whether graduate students study engineering, law, or anything in between, knowing how to navigate a business setting can make them more eligible job candidates and give them a head start in their careers.

This spring, the University of Minnesota’s Office of University Economic Development (UED) is teaming up with the Advanced Professional Degree Consulting Club (APDCC) to introduce the Economic Development Fellows Pilot Program, which assigns a collection of project managers who will guide graduate students internship projects with small businesses. The graduate students, already selected for this round, will form teams of five led by an economic development fellow. The teams will collaborate on one of four projects offered by area small businesses.

APDCC, which helps graduate students learn about consulting as a career option and connect with recruiting and networking opportunities, and UED officially launched the internship program on Jan. 20. The projects, lasting eight to 12 weeks, will conclude in a final deliverable — such as a presentation, meeting or report — to showcase the successful culmination of the interns’ efforts. Continue reading

New MN-IP option offers royalty-free licensing

Since it debuted in 2011, the nationally recognized Minnesota Innovation Partnerships program, or MN-IP, has set the University of Minnesota apart. This multi-faceted program has business-friendly terms that have helped forge more than 175 research agreements and several technology licenses between the U and industry partners.

MN-IP Create previously offered two options for companies looking to sponsor University research and license the intellectual property that results: Option A, which allows companies to pre-pay a portion of a research agreement in exchange for an exclusive license to the technology developed; and Option B, which has no upfront fees and waits until IP is developed to negotiate a royalty-bearing license.

Now, MN-IP Create is expanding to offer a third option. “Option C” allows companies to pre-pay 10 percent of a sponsored research agreement or $10,000, whichever is greater, in exchange for a non-exclusive, worldwide license to all inventions that arise from the project. The sponsoring company does not pay any royalties, annual minimums or other technology commercialization fees on the license. The company also has the opportunity to later negotiate an exclusive, royalty-bearing license if desired. Continue reading

Researchers team up with Fate Therapeutics to fight cancer

Stem Cell

A new partnership aims to develop novel treatments in the fight against cancer.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have teamed up with biopharmaceutical company Fate Therapeutics Inc. to develop new cancer therapies. These therapies aim to help the body launch a stronger immune response against cancer through natural killer (NK) cells — a type of white blood cell in the body’s immune system that attacks diseases. Doctors have long explored the use of NK cells in treating people with cancer, aiming to boost the number of cells the body’s immune system can use to better fight disease. Through their partnership with Fate, a San Diego-based company that uses stem cells to produce treatments for rare and life-threatening disorders, U researchers are pursuing a two-pronged research approach to developing new, more effective NK cell-based treatments.

“We’re working to together to apply what we know and come up with the best scientifically valid treatment,” said Jeff Miller, M.D., deputy director of the U’s Masonic Cancer Center. “There’s a lot of excitement over the potential these treatments could have to help people suffering from cancer.”

As part of the partnership, Fate will sponsor two separate lines of research at the U for two years, and in return, the company, working with the Office for Technology Commercialization, will receive an exclusive option to exclusively license both the background intellectual property as well as any new intellectual property developed during the course of the sponsored research. Right now, the researchers are working to gather as much data as possible to determine whether their NK cell treatments will be more effective than existing cancer therapies. Continue reading

Research leads to record 16 startups in FY15

Bright Ideas

Technology commercialization transforms the latest breakthroughs into everyday solutions that improve our health, environment and quality of life.

At the University of Minnesota, researchers are developing inventions that aim to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges. In fiscal 2015, the Venture Center at the U’s Office for Technology Commercialization formed a record 16 startup companies around these inventions, topping the previous record of 15 companies in 2014 and bringing the total number of startups launched to 84 since the Venture Center formed in 2006.

“It is exciting to see university research leave the lab and be applied on a larger scale to solve societal problems,” said Brian Herman, Ph.D., the U’s vice president for research. “By bringing these ideas to market, the U is helping to spur entrepreneurial activity and advance Minnesota’s economy, strengthening its competitiveness in key industries and creating the basis for new ones.” Continue reading

Watson kicks off cognitive computing research

Power of Thought

The recent avian flu outbreak proved devastating to Minnesota. The virus killed more than 9 million of the state’s turkeys and chickens and wiped out the flocks of 108 poultry farms, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report.

This fall, University of Minnesota students with expertise in computer science and food security will explore new ways to curb the effects of avian flu outbreaks using a cutting-edge cognitive computing system. IBM’s Watson, a system that mimics how the human brain works by understanding naturally written language and learning from what it reads to discover new patterns and connections, serves as the basis for a special topics course. The course, “Explore Watson,” is the result of a partnership between the U of M and IBM to discover research and business applications for cognitive computing.

“Cognitive computing can piece together data in ways researchers may not expect, finding connections they may not otherwise identify,” said Claudia Neuhauser, Ph.D., lead instructor of the course and director of the U’s Informatics Institute. “Using a tool like Watson can help us not just in answering our research questions, but in figuring out which questions we should be asking.” Continue reading

Collaborations cross disciplines to tackle big challenges

MnDRIVE collage

What do cleaning the state’s waterways, curbing livestock disease and treating diabetes have in common?

These are a few of the dozen projects that have brought University of Minnesota researchers together to work beyond the limits of their academic fields to address complex societal challenges. The U’s MnDRIVE Transdisciplinary Research Program provided nearly $6 million for the 12 research projects, which ranged from an effort to use smart systems to reduce sulfate concentrations in water to designing wearable technology that treats neurological disorders. Each project integrated at least three of the four key MnDRIVE research areas: discoveries and treatments for brain conditions; robotics, sensors and advanced manufacturing; advancing industry, conserving our environment; and global food ventures.

“Transdisciplinary projects inspire researchers to think creatively about complex problems,” said Brian Herman, Ph.D., the U’s vice president for research. “These projects bring together some of the university’s greatest minds, allowing experts from vastly different fields to collaborate together and with community and industry partners to find new and often unexpected approaches to challenges in our society.” Continue reading