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

ApoGen receives $7 million investment for cancer therapy

Researcher in a lab

A University of Minnesota startup recently attracted a major investment to support continued development of drug therapies that make cancer treatments more effective.

ApoGen Biotechnologies Inc., launched in October 2014, announced last month that it had received $7 million from life science investment firm Accelerator Corporation to continue developing a new class of drugs that slows the evolution of cancer cells and to move these treatments toward clinical trials. ApoGen is based on discoveries by two U researchers: Reuben Harris, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics; and Daniel Harki, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicinal chemistry. John Santini Jr., Ph.D., is the company’s president and CEO.

Cancer therapies often become less effective over time as cancer cells become resistant to treatment. ApoGen’s drugs are designed to block a key enzyme that causes drug resistance, potentially making current and future treatments more effective. Continue reading

Applying for federal funding to help commercialize discoveries

Image of a woman signing forms

Each year, the federal government offers about $2.5 billion in funding to help small businesses bring new innovations to market — including those originating from public research institutions like the University of Minnesota. The complex applications for such funding, however, can be challenging to understand and to navigate.

The MN-SBIR program aims to shed light on the process. The program assists seed, early stage, emerging and existing firms of up to 500 employees in accessing federal funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The office provides confidential, one-on-one guidance and advice in business development and technology commercialization to help those applying for SBIR or STTR grants or contract.  For University researchers, these funding sources can provide much needed funds to help bring cutting-edge discoveries beyond the lab and toward commercialization.

“SBIR and STTR funding supports research and development in science and technology across the spectrum of disciplines,” said Pat Dillon, director of MN-SBIR. “These federal funding sources, often in addition to angel investment or venture capital, but not necessarily, will help startups and small businesses continue to develop the technology and move it towards commercialization.” Continue reading

Patent roll call, fall 2016

Lightbulb drawing

Filing for a patent on a research discovery is more than just a way to protect the intellectual property behind it. Patents are often a crucial step toward moving breakthroughs beyond the lab and into the market, where they can benefit society.

Congratulations to the U of M researchers who were recently awarded patents for their discoveries. To learn more about reporting an invention, contact the Office for Technology Commercialization at 612-624-0550 or umotc@umn.edu. Continue reading

Cancer treatment startup based on U research wins Tekne Award

Tekne Award

A startup company that develops next-generation cancer treatments based on University of Minnesota research has been awarded for its innovative therapies.

GeneSegues Therapeutics received the Minnesota High Tech Association’s Tekne Award Wednesday night in the category of Health Care — Small and Growing. Tekne Awards recognize innovation across Minnesota in industries ranging from advanced manufacturing, health care and agricultural technology.

GeneSegues develops microscopic capsules that serve as a vessel to transport gene therapies through the body that help stop the spread of cancer. The capsules are smaller than conventional nanoparticles, allowing them to slip past the human body’s biological barriers and attack cancerous cells more precisely, while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

The company grew out of research done by U of M post-doc Gretchen Unger, Ph.D., in the early 2000s. Unger is currently chief scientific officer with the company. The company’s CEO is Laura Brod, who is also an at-large member of the University’s Board of Regents.

New startups take on societal challenges in health, environment

When it comes to finding solutions to some of the largest challenges facing society today, research and innovation are some of the best tools available.

The University of Minnesota’s 10-year strategic plan, Driving Tomorrow, lays out the role that cutting-edge University research will play in addressing the grand challenges that face Minnesota, the U.S. and the world. The plan highlights how innovative research conducted by interdisciplinary teams can lead to new solutions that help society succeed in finding ways to feed the world sustainably, foster just and equitable communities and more.

The focus on the five Grand Challenges is growing throughout the University’s research endeavors, and its startup enterprise is no exception. Fiscal year 2016 saw another record number of startups launched, and several of these companies are working to implement promising new discoveries that connect to these priorities.

Below, Inquiry highlights two new startups that are further developing U research to create solutions in the Grand Challenges areas of advancing health through tailored solutions and assuring clean water and sustainable ecosystems.

Continue reading

Venture Center launches record 17 startups in FY16

The University of Minnesota announced today that it launched a record 17 startup companies over the past year based on discoveries and inventions by its researchers.

Launching new companies is one of the primary ways the University turns cutting-edge research discoveries into commercial products that fuel the economy and contribute to the public good. The 17 startups include 14 in Minnesota, with 13 of them in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and one in Duluth.

The FY16 record follows a milestone accomplishment in early June, when the University’s Venture Center announced it had launched its 100th startup since its founding 10 years ago, with 82 percent of those companies still active. A part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, the Venture Center matches intellectual property resulting from university research with experienced CEOs to provide a platform for that research to reach the public.

Continue reading

MN-REACH seeks health care innovators for fourth funding cycle

Researchers who have developed cutting-edge medical technologies or pharmaceuticals can soon apply for funding to help bring those discoveries to market.

The University of Minnesota’s MN-REACH program, part of the National Institutes of Health’s Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hubs, is now entering its fourth funding cycle to help commercialize new med-tech and pharma inventions. MN-REACH aims to improve health care by fostering the development of breakthrough lab innovations — such as therapeutics, preventatives, diagnostics, devices and software tools — into products that create health, economic and societal benefits.

Researchers can submit pre-proposals from Thursday, July 14 through Friday, Aug. 12. Funding is available in the range of $10,000 to $150,000 per project. See the list of projects selected for MN-REACH funding during Cycle 1 and Cycle 2. Awardees of Cycle 3 grants will be announced later this month. Continue reading

Automated system helps truck drivers find safe, legal parking

Along busy highways, finding a safe and legal place to park a semi truck can be a challenge. When rest stop spaces fill up, truck drivers may park on the shoulders of highway ramps or nearby roads, creating safety concerns. Others may continue driving and become fatigued or violate federal regulations that limit commercial driving hours.

Through a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the American Transportation Research Institute, University of Minnesota researchers have developed a system to help drivers find safe and legal parking more easily. The Minnesota Truck Parking Availability System, developed by a team at the Center for Transportation Studies, automatically counts the open truck parking spaces at rest stops and informs drivers of availability in real-time.

The system feeds images taken by networks of digital cameras into image processing software developed by the researchers to function in all kinds of weather and lighting conditions. Following early demonstrations, 60 percent of drivers said the system helped them find parking during their trips. Continue reading

U launches 100th startup company to commercialize technology

The University of Minnesota announced today that it has launched 100 startup companies over the last 10 years based on technology developed through University research.

The 100 startups, which have been launched since the Venture Center was formed in 2006 as part of the Office for Technology Commercialization, mark a milestone in the University’s efforts to assist faculty and staff in forming new companies to commercialize their inventions. Launching new companies is one of the primary ways the University turns research discoveries into commercial products that fuel the economy and contribute to the public good.

“The University of Minnesota is committed to connecting our researchers to experienced entrepreneurs and to innovative programs, transforming extraordinary discoveries into the birth of 100 companies,” said University President Eric Kaler. “We are proud of our remarkable and ongoing contributions to Minnesota’s innovation culture and entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Continue reading

MnDRIVE technologies move beyond the lab

Since its inception, MnDRIVE (Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy) has fueled a multitude of research projects, all with the common goal of finding innovative solutions for grand challenges that fall within four research areas.

Along the way, the cutting-edge technologies developed as part of these projects are moving beyond the lab to become actual inventions. To date, nearly 180 MnDRIVE-related intellectual property disclosures have been filed with the University of Minnesota’s technology commercialization office. These disclosures mark the first step in moving inventions beyond the lab. Included within these are 50 disclosures stemming from transdisciplinary research and 28 that have included graduate or undergraduate student researchers.

“The mission of MnDRIVE is to enhance quality of life and economic vitality in Minnesota and beyond,” said Brian Herman, Ph.D., the U’s vice president for research. “The program has proven effective in developing innovative, practical technologies, which have the potential to further Minnesota’s leadership in key industries and promote prosperity across the state.” Continue reading

With latest cold-hardy grape, U continues to help grow an industry

Itasca wine grape

The Itasca wine grape

At the University of Minnesota, grape research hasn’t just sprouted a few new vines — it’s spurred the growth of an industry.

Earlier this month, the University released Itasca, a low-acidity, high-sugar grape for making dry white wines. Itasca is the latest in a line of cold-hardy wine grapes developed by U researchers that have played a crucial role in building the winery industry in regions where low temperatures used to hinder grape growing.

“The grape and wine industries of the north are thriving,” said William Gartner, Ph.D., professor with the Department of Applied Economics in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. “Through its wine grape breeding program, the U of M has been primarily responsible for the emergence and growth of the northern grape wine industry.” Continue reading