Mason’s Office of Tech Transfer Focuses on Turning Discoveries into Products — and Profits

Posted: September 15, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

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Mason’s Office of Technology Transfer has amassed a creditable record of success stories.
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By Marjorie Musick

By turning scientific discoveries into new products through collaboration with the private sector, universities play a vital role in spurring innovation across many industries. Since its January 2001 launch, Mason’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) has been promoting and facilitating the use of its faculty’s inventions by the business community.

The OTT encourages faculty, staff and students to patent their intellectual property for success in the commercial sector and takes an active role in making public-private partnerships official.

The office also runs the university’s George Mason Intellectual Properties Inc. (GMIP), a corporation that manages the protection and commercialization of the university’s patents and copyrights.

Full Steam Ahead

“When faculty members think they have a new concept, they contact us,” says Jennifer Murphy, associate vice president for research and OTT director. “We discuss whether there is a market for the invention, how it would be commercialized and if it is patentable.”

Murphy notes that the OTT moves forward with patenting most of the submitted innovations.

“The university, which owns most technology developed here, assigns that technology to the nonprofit GMIP to facilitate the patenting and licensing process. Once the transfer has been completed, GMIP becomes the owner of the property,” Murphy explains. “License agreements are then made between GMIP and the company that will develop and commercialize the technology.”

Murphy’s small staff of six, which regularly handles 50 to 60 disclosures per year, entered into 13 licenses in 2008 — a substantial increase from the average of four over the last four years.

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Mason’s Office of Technology Transfer staff at a recent farewell gathering for Joe Janda, far left, who worked on the Nanotrap licensing. Director Jennifer Murphy is third from left.
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One of the more interesting changes over the last three years has been the growth in life science technology disclosures, which now comprise half of the new invention disclosures. Most of these come from bioscience efforts on Mason’s Prince William Campus, including proteomics and infectious diseases.

During its eight years of operation, the OTT has helped bring more than 80 Mason-born concepts to companies, where they are being sold or are being developed for sale in the marketplace.

Three of Mason’s technologies that have become marketable products are highlighted below.

A Versatile Technology

In 1992, IME Inc. sponsored Mason to develop a reagent that would detect bacteria and fungi using IME’s existing ampoule system. Mason succeeded in developing such a reagent and licensed the reagent to IME.

This led to the development of a water testing system that measures conditions within industrial cooling towers and warns of microbial contamination and other dangerous conditions.

That technology led to another that IME Inc. used to develop a cutting-edge tool for diagnosing urinary tract infections. This tool, the CultureStat Rapid UTI Detection System, is being distributed by MicroBionetics, a subsidiary of IME.

The CultureStat System uses ampoules and light spectrophotometry to provide quicker, more accurate results in detecting urinary tract infections and has the potential to be expanded to aid in many other aspects of medical diagnoses. The system is portable and easy to use, making it attractive to diagnosticians.

According to Timothy J. Mattimore Jr., managing member and general counsel of MicroBionetics, more than 200 million urine culture tests are performed in the United States annually, representing a sizable potential market for the system. Mattimore credits the entrepreneurial spirit of Mason’s administration with contributing to the company’s ability to make a major impact in the medical marketplace.

“IME could not have picked a better partner when we reached out to George Mason in the early 1990s. The supportive relationship with the university when the reagent was developed was a springboard to getting us where we are today,” says Mattimore.

Next-Generation Security Software

In 2006, Anup Ghosh, chief scientist and research professor in Mason’s Center for Secure Information Systems (CSIS), founded Secure Command LLC to build next-generation security software tools.

Secure Command licensed Ghosh’s brainchild from Mason to create its flagship product, Internet Cleanroom, which protects personal computers from Internet-based threats by creating virtual machines on demand to run applications that connect to the Internet.

“When I came to Mason in 2006, I launched Secure Command as a start-up,” says Ghosh, who serves as president and CEO of the company. “The idea was to develop innovative approaches to desktop security — specifically, leveraging virtualization software. Tech Transfer helped us to commercialize a product that was built in a Mason laboratory.”

Secure Command now rents office space in the Research I building on the Fairfax Campus so the company’s employees can work hand-in-hand with the university’s researchers in the CSIS.

The company recently released a beta version of Internet Cleanroom Personal Edition Browser, and a professional version aimed at corporations will soon be available.

“I can tell you that doing tech transfer is really hard. It has more to do with the people than anything else. What you find is that researchers are not necessarily people who can take their ideas to market, so pairing innovative ideas with the right team is important,” says Ghosh.

“Mason approaches this with the right attitude. They want to see success stories. They believe that if the company succeeds, then Mason succeeds.”

The Nanotrap

In 2008, Ceres Nanosciences LLLP licensed from Mason a “Nanotrap” technology that was created by world-renowned cancer researchers Emanuel F. Petricoin III and Lance Liotta, professors of life sciences and codirectors of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine.

This technology was used to create the “Ceres Nanotrap,” a unique nano-sized particle that is capable of trapping, isolating and preserving the smallest and scarcest of substances in fluid, including blood, urine and water. Combined with existing diagnostic platforms, it provides a more efficient, reliable and accurate method for critical diagnostic processes.

“As an attorney who has dealt with tech transfer at other universities, albeit in a different capacity, I was surprised to find that Mason was more of a partner with Ceres than a competitor when it came to the transfer of technology,” says Thomas Dunlap, CEO of Ceres Nanosciences. “Tech Transfer genuinely sought to promote our success.”

Ceres Nanosciences recently announced the use of its Nanotrap technology in a groundbreaking urine test that can detect human growth hormone, a compound believed to be widely used illegally by athletes to boost performance artificially.

Petricoin notes that Mason’s enthusiasm for the commercialization of life science innovations has made it easier to bring his research team’s innovations to the marketplace.

“We’ve received tremendous support at all levels. When we were originally hired, President [Alan] Merten shared his vision of faculty spinning out companies from their inventions. He wanted success stories, he had an appreciation for our background in translational research, and he wanted our discoveries to help the general population,” says Petricoin.

“His philosophy trickled down to the provost and dean. We didn’t get ‘no’ from Tech Transfer; we always got help in finding a way to make something possible. Tech Transfer doesn’t stand in the way of technology.”

Although these technology transfer success stories can be viewed as proof that Mason has perfected its entrepreneurial practice of commercializing new knowledge, Murphy observes, “Most deals end up being serendipitous in that we’ll just come across someone looking for that technology or who is excited about a specific technology.”

She adds, “I believe that Tech Transfer is one of the best ways to get research into the community. If we want to be known for our research, then we need to have a product in the market and be able to say that it was developed at Mason.”

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