Office of Technology Development

Moving Science from Patents to Patients

Some would call it "the Shark Tank of the Medical College of Wisconsin" (MCW), but those on the inside refer to the process of technology transfer as more of a "Coral Reef" – where the process is transparent and collaborative rather than cutthroat.

Launched in 1984, the Office of Technology Development (OTD), MCW's technology transfer office, was established to serve, support and educate MCW faculty, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and staff in the development and transfer of their inventions and technologies into viable products and businesses. The OTD is responsible for protecting and managing the intellectual property assets of MCW. The institution has innovative research and clinical programs that create a robust pipeline of technologies available for licensing in the areas of therapeutics, diagnostics, diagnostics, imaging, medical devices and research tools.

The OTD connects inventors and external stakeholders to bring ideas generated from MCW's research and clinical practices to fruition – a process the OTD refers to as "advancing discoveries from Patents to Patients®."

Using a concierge model, OTD staff work alongside inventors throughout the entire commercialization process: from the initial disclosure of the invention through the evaluation of commercial potential, from the protection of the intellectual property to marketing, to negotiation of license agreements, to maintenance of relationships with industry partners.

Office of Technology Development: From Lab to Marketplace

"Companies are increasingly investing in intangible assets like intellectual property rather than tangible assets like personnel, buildings and equipment," says Eddie Diehl, PhD, marketing manager for the OTD. "The sale of products, services and other embodiments of intellectual property, and how they fair in the marketplace, is a true measure of innovation. The OTD wants to stimulate the interest of companies or investors to commit resources to further develop and commercialize our technologies."

Established in 2012, the OTD Technology Evaluation Committee (TEC) comprises external industry, investment and legal experts who evaluate discoveries from MCW inventors with respect to patentability and market possibilities. In this way, both inventors and the OTD receive guidance from impartial, independent experts. These technology evaluations also are shared with prospective industry partners and investors.

"MCW's TEC is unique in that few academic institutions truly have an evaluation committee. The committees that do exist are primarily internal people, like faculty peers, who focus solely on the science and patents. MCW's TEC comprises external individuals, such as technology sector experts, intellectual property experts, business leaders, investment professionals, clinicians and scientists,” explains Joseph O. Hill, PhD, managing director of the OTD.

The TEC has the diversity of expertise needed to address not just the patent side of technology transfer, but also the potential products, marketplace, the status of development and the commercialization strategy. The TEC serves as a mentoring platform in which it partners with the inventor and the OTD to provide the necessary input, feedback and analysis to help an invention succeed.

Here's another way in which the "Coral Reef" philosophy comes in: if a decision is made not to immediately pursue an inventor's technology, that individual is provided with extensive, objective and transparent feedback along with encouragement to return with the missing elements so her/his discovery has a better chance of succeeding.

"The collective expertise of the TEC provides inventors with an objective perspective on many factors that are critical to their technology's commercial success. By providing input at an early stage of technology development, the process enhances the probability of success for projects that have commercial prospects," notes Loren G. Peterson, managing director & CFO, Venture Investors LLC, and member of the TEC.

The OTD at work for inventors at MCW

Nikki Johnston, PhD, MCW associate professor of otolaryngology and communication sciences, microbiology and molecular genetics, and director of airway, digestive and voice research, has had the opportunity to work with the OTD on a number of inventions since May 2015. One of the primary goals of Dr. Johnston's research was to develop a new therapeutic treatment for a specific type of acid reflux called Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR). The treatment specifically targets pepsin, which is the major digestive enzyme only found in the stomach. LPR is the backflow of gastric contents into the throat. It affects 10-30 percent of the US population, causing chronic throat irritation such as hoarseness and cough. It has been proposed that prolonged uncontrolled LPR may even promote throat cancer.

Dr. Johnston submitted her invention disclosure for this therapeutic treatment to the OTD and worked with them to craft an invention disclosure report which was submitted to the TEC. She was then invited to present at a quarterly TEC meeting.

"Everyone (on the OTD Coral Reef) was very friendly and helpful. I appreciated the opportunity to present to experts such as patent attorneys and potential investors, and receive their feedback. It was a group with diverse expertise and I learned a lot in the process. It helped me focus my research to get the data needed to file a patent," says Dr. Johnston. "Most researchers are not familiar with technology development and commercialization, so it's invaluable to have such a supportive resource available."

Her plan is to file a patent for the therapeutic and then connect with a company that has the appropriate expertise and infrastructure to license the treatment and take her work to the next level.  Since her initial engagement with the OTD and TEC, Dr. Johnston also has licensed novel human laryngeal cell lines derived from normal laryngeal epithelial biopsy specimens as a tool for the laryngology research community.

"Our processes, including the TEC, are part of a covenant we have with inventors like Dr. Johnston to nurture intellectual creativity. These collaborative efforts help to stimulate research within MCW, identify new discoveries, and transfer the intellectual property to those individuals who are best equipped to develop and take a product to market. This is the ultimate translation of Patents to Patients," explains Dr. Hill.

– Maureen Remmel

MCW Magazine: Discovery story

Medical College of Wisconsin…8701 Watertown Plank Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53226
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