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High stakes dispute over siRNA patents continues in Boston federal court


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

A recent hearing in Boston’s federal court over a patent dispute involving a University of Utah (U of U) researcher marks the continuation of a long-standing, heated dispute concerning a technology that has yet to yield a single marketable product.

U of U researcher Brenda Bass, who filed the current lawsuit, claims she communicated her ideas on a class of double-stranded RNA molecules known as siRNA, which could potentially be used to neutralize disease-causing genes, to a group of scientists led by Thomas Tuschl. According to the suit, Tuschl allegedly published a paper on the use of siRNA in drug development using the idea Bass had first arrived at.

If Bass prevails in the dispute, around 10 patents could be modified to include the U of U researcher as a co-inventor. Although the technology has yet to yield a treatment for a single patient, all the parties involved, which have spent collective millions on legal fees over the research, agree that it could turn out to be one of the most transformative drug discovery technologies in a generation.

“This is revolutionary research in the biomedical area,” says John Leavitt, a retired life sciences consultant and molecular biologist who has followed the case closely. “You can use siRNA to target all genes, whether they’re on the surface of cells or inside the cells. There are roughly 20,000 to 25,000 genes in a cell, and you can theoretically target any one of them using this technology. It lets you target genes that were previously considered undruggable.”

In the trial, a powerful roster of companies and universities including MIT, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Germany’s Max Planck Institutes and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc., the company that licensed the siRNA technology, insist that Bass doesn’t merit “joint inventorship” status, which would give licensing rights to her university or entitle it to royalties from the billions of dollars in sales that could result from commercialization of the siRNA research.

Nicolas S. Boebel, an attorney representing the U of U in the trial, comments, “The core of our argument is that what Dr. Tuschl used in his experiments to confirm the activity of the siRNA was a structure that he learned from Dr. Bass.”

The stakes are particularly high for Anlylam, which has yet to win its first drug approval around siRNA but commands a stock market value of over $9 billion based on expectations among investors that the technology will lead to multiple breakthrough therapies.

“Patents are an important part of our business,” says Anlylam CEO John Maraganore. “We believe in the merits of our case, and we’ll continue to pursue the legal process.”

Source: The Boston Globe

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Establish a Creative Works Licensing Program to Enhance Your TTO’s Revenue and Faculty Service


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

University TTOs that focus exclusively on patenting, licensing or spinning out technologies are ignoring a wealth of potential revenue in the form of creative intellectual property — aka “creative works.” These educational programs, curricula, music, art, institutional marks, school logos, and other valuable forms of IP often aren’t disclosed because their commercial and financial potential isn’t readily recognized — and the faculty involved are not engaged by the TTO. If your office is among those without a creative works IP effort, you could be leaving significant dollars on the table while jeopardizing your university’s copyright and trademark rights.

That’s why Technology Transfer Tactics’ Distance Learning Division has partnered with two top creative works licensing experts to help you meet the challenges associated with creative works, build your revenues from this often overlooked source of IP, and extend your faculty service to your entire campus.

Please join us on September 24th for this practical, how-to webinar: Establish a Creative Works Licensing Program to Enhance Your TTO’s Revenue and Faculty Service. You’ll get expert, from-the-field guidance from Timothy Benoit-Ledoux, the University of New Hampshire’s creative works licensing manager, and Lisa Goble, PhD, a tech transfer and creative works licensing veteran with UNC-Greensboro.

For complete program details and to register, CLICK HERE.

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GE Ventures, Carnegie Mellon launch new initiative to support robotics innovation in Pittsburgh


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and GE Ventures, the investment arm of General Electric, have launched a new accelerator program and a $20 million venture fund to promote Pittsburgh’s growing robotics industry. continue reading »

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In move to boost economic development, ASU’s TTO offers services outside the university


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

In a move signaling the increasing importance of regional economic development to TTOs, Arizona State University has launched the “Startup Mill,” offering the university’s commercialization services and resources on a fee-for-service basis to non-university entrepreneurs and start-ups.

According to Charlie Lewis, vice president of venture development at Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), the university’s commercialization arm, becoming even more focused than ever on economic development was the key motivation for the initiative. “Probably first and foremost we considered community engagement, since fostering regional economic development is one of the pillars for the university,” he says. “Secondarily, oftentimes as result of that kind engagement with entrepreneurs and positive outcomes — potentially involving collaborations with faculty researchers.”

Lewis also points to other “derivative benefits” that could come from offering commercialization assistance to outsiders, including being associated with more success stories.

“There is a very thin subset of the ventures that come out of any university that have very high potential — the point being that we look at this as an opportunity to increase the ratio of our success stories by trying to identify early on those we collectively feel have the highest success opportunities,” he says. “Once we reach consensus, we’ll bring to bear all the resources we can to give them the greatest chance of success we can. It comes down to looking at the university as the virtual operational arm to those [outside] companies.”

Lewis adds: “Rather than having to go out and hire a PR firm or a market research company, they can tap into resources at the university. We’ll bring in an MBA student or group to do the research, and use our own marketing and PR people. That helps conserve capital early on.”

In addition to the economic development benefits, ASU has an upside when these outside companies succeed, he adds. Each participant signs an engagement agreement “whereby … based on the successes the company achieves as it advances, the university receives some consideration back [for the services provided],” Lewis explains. A detailed article on the Startup Mill appears in the August issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with the publication’s rich archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

Best Practices for Bolstering Economic Development and Building Your University’s Innovation Ecosystem includes four best-selling programs providing expert guidance on successfully creating partnerships, plans, and funding channels as well as supporting these efforts. Click here for more details >>

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U Buffalo start-up seeks to make preclinical trials less expensive for drug developers


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

A University at Buffalo (UB) start-up has developed a new biotechnology tool that could cut the time and money needed for preclinical drug trials in half. continue reading »

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How a prototype can help move your start-up forward


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

According to start-up consultant and investor Martin Zwilling, when considering their new ventures they’ll back, “angel investors like me have long figured out that asking to see the prototype is a quick way to separate the ‘wannabes’ from serious players. Talk is cheap, but entrepreneurs who show you a working model of their idea know how to execute,” he writes in his blog Startup Professional Musings.

If money is the issue, he says in today’s world that shouldn’t stop you. “In reality,” he writes, “it doesn’t take a huge investment of money and time to build a prototype today. If it is hardware, look for one of the ‘makerspaces’ such as TechShop, with all the tools you need to make almost anything yourself. Software products and apps can be quickly wireframed with free tools such as MockFlow, or even Microsoft Powerpoint to lay out the key screens.”

Here are six key results Zwilling says start-ups can achieve by building a prototype:

  • Something you can touch and feel helps validate opportunity. Words just can’t do what a realistic prototype of a product can do – in other words, seeing is believing. And he adds, “you can get more accurate feedback from customers on their real need and what they might pay, before you invest millions on the final product.”
  • Quantify the implementation challenges. Ideas without some sort of implementation are just ideas, Zwilling says. “Visions and theory are notoriously hard to implement. A prototype has to be real enough to be convincing, without looking like science fiction.”
  • Give yourself time to pivot without dire consequences. It’s the rare product that gets it completely right the first time, he points out, and “it’s much easier to pivot the pre-production prototype than to dispose of unsellable inventory.”
  • Show investors that you are committed, and past the idea stage. Most investors simply won’t take you seriously without at least a prototype, Zwilling cautions. Building and testing and validating a prototype dramatically de-risks the venture “and allows everyone to hone in on the real costs of going into production,” Zwilling says.
  • Reduce the time to production and rollout. Building a prototype can actually save time and money, he stresses. Without one, you could spend every time and way too many hours on a product that just doesn’t cut it in the marketplace. “Don’t spend your whole development budget before finding that you need another iteration,” he advises.
  • Support early negotiation with vendors and distribution channels. A 3D prototype “is always better than just a documented specification when negotiating contracts for manufacturing, support, and marketing,” Zwilling notes. “As a startup, you need all the leverage you can get.”

For founders who can’t build a prototype themselves, it’s important enough to bring on a co-founder who can, he adds. And he doesn’t advice using a third party vendor. “You should never outsource the management of your core technology. At worst, maybe you can find a trusted friend to guide you, or a nearby university with expert professors and the proper tools,” Zwilling says.

He mentions several resources, including the Thomas Registry – an online database of 650,000 specialty manufacturers, distributors, and prototype developers — across every state and country, as well as invention support sites such as InventorSpot and IntellectualVentures. But he does not recommend them as prototyping partners.

“Unfortunately, working with any of these outside services is hard to manage, risky in results, and some have developed a reputation for taking advantage of unsuspecting entrepreneurs. The amount of money you spend on their services is never an indication of potential success.”

In terms of expense, he says, “your target cost expectation should be one-tenth of the total commercialization cost, with the assumption that it will be throw-away. Even still, I can’t think of a better way to validate your solution early, and get credibility with the people who count.”

Source: Startup Professionals Musings

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Royalty Rates for Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology, 8th Edition


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

Royalty Rates for Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology, 8th Edition features more real-deal royalty rates, license fees, and milestone payment benchmarks than any other publication.

The 8th Edition contains hundreds of royalty rates and other financial compensation benchmarks that can be used to optimize the pricing of biotechnology and pharmaceutical innovations. You’ll find updated and expanded information from past editions as well as a 30% expansion in the number of reported license agreements. In addition, Royalty Rates for Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology goes well beyond the rates to provide context for each deal analyzed.

For a detailed table of contents and sample pages, or to order, CLICK HERE >>

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Atlanta researchers develop inexpensive, easy-to-use self-test for anemia


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

A team of researchers from Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the Georgia Institute of Technology (GA Tech) have developed an inexpensive, easy-to-use device to self-test for anemia. continue reading »

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La Jolla Pharmaceutical teams with Vanderbilt to develop drugs for rare bone-related diseases


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

Leading drug developer La Jolla Pharmaceutical Company and Vanderbilt University have entered into an exclusive global licensing agreement to commercialize treatments for diseases related to the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) type-I receptor family. continue reading »

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U of Nebraska Medical Center researcher looks to commercialize vaccine response technology


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

A professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) aims to commercialize a method to improve the body’s response to vaccines. continue reading »

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Comings and Goings


By David Schwartz
Published: August 26th, 2015

Rose Ritts, PhD, Executive Director of Duke University’s Office of Licensing and Ventures, has been named the Executive Vice President of Innovation at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health System in Philadelphia, PA. Her new appointment begins November 1. In her nearly 10 years at the helm of Duke’s research commercialization efforts, the university has been among the fastest-rising technology transfer offices in the country, moving from the bottom quartile to the top decile in the annual AUTM survey. New licensing agreements have more than tripled during that time, from 35 per year when she joined Duke to more than 150 new agreements in 2015. Revenue has increased more than 10-fold to more than $37 million in 2015. Barry Myers, MD, PhD, MBA, currently the OLV’s managing director, will lead the office during the interim period while Duke searchers for a new executive director. Myers also serves as Director of Emerging Programs for the Duke Translational Research Institute and Program Director of the Duke-Coulter Translational Partnership Grant Program. Source: Duke Translational Medicine Institute

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The four “M”s of evaluating a start-up


By David Schwartz
Published: August 18th, 2015

In his recent post for AlleyWatch, George Deeb, managing partner at Chicago-based start-up consulting and financing firm Red Rocket Ventures, describes the four “M”s that investors should use to evaluate a start-up: market, model, management and momentum. His insights can help inform both investors and start-ups that seek investors, as well as TTOs assessing the market potential of their fledgling spinouts:

  1. Market: Deeb says this one “comes down to a look at the start-up’s industry and competition.” The larger the industry, and the faster it grows, the better. Investors are more interested in $100B markets than $100M ones. As Deeb puts it, “A business selling travel to passengers around the world would garner more interest than a business selling whitewater rafting trips in Colorado.” At the same time, the fewer competitors the better, so first or early movers are preferred.
  2. Model: This “M” comes down to two things: the overall business model and the unit economic model. As for the business model, how does the company plan to make money? Through merchandise or advertising sales? Most importantly, how much revenue can you get in the next five years, and what does that mean to the return-on-investment?

The unit economics can be boiled down to the lifetime value of a customer’s revenues compared to the cost of acquiring that customer in the first place. Deeb uses Starbucks as an example: “Your average ticket is $10 per transaction, and a customer buys one cup of coffee a week, that is a year of revenue potential of $520. And, if we lose customers at a rate of 20% a year, over five years that is a lifetime value of $1,560 in revenues.” Deeb says he avoids spending more than 10% of the average lifetime revenue number on an initial cost of acquisition.

  1. Management: There are several variables to assessing a start-up’s management. Most importantly, how experienced in their industry are the founders? How experienced in start-ups are they? How much experience do they have working together as a team? Do they get along well enough with the investors, seeing as everyone would be inevitably spending a lot of time together?
  2. Momentum: “If I had to pick one thing investors gravitate towards more than anything is the speed of customer adoption,” writes Deeb. “If customers and revenues are scaling quickly, that is a pretty solid proof of concept that instills confidence and excites an investor to write a check.” Momentum is so significant that, even if you had the other three “M”s down pat, without momentum you would still be hard pressed to raise capital with investors. As an overall lesson, focus less on the product and more on the proof of concept marketing around that product, and you will be in good shape.

Source: AlleyWatch

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