Planting the seeds of innovation
There is a growing recognition that universities have to help move research discoveries from the research lab to the market as part of their overall mission to develop and disseminate new knowledge. For the users of these newly created products or services there is the potential of adding great value to their lives, while enabling significant positive impact on the economic wellbeing of the region in which the commercializing companies reside. The recognition generated by these commercialization activities works to strengthen the reputation of the university researchers on a national and international scale, and can lead to longer term sponsored research agreements that help fund continued work in the university labs. The excitement this work brings to the students’ educational experience is immeasurable, not only in developing and applying new technology, but also in seeing it used in daily life.
This year a wealth of young UTSA companies are spinning off new biomedical device technologies and working to get their products approved and on the market. Invictus Medical is entering clinical trials with a pediatric cranial support device aimed at preventing hospital-acquired pressure ulcers (HAPUs) and deformational plagiocephaly (DP) in young infants. Leto Solutions, Inc. has developed the Aquilonix System, a prosthesis cooling and heat dissipation system for below the knee prosthetics, and has deployed working prototypes. Cardiovate is developing a stent-graft for aneurysm repair that will provide a natural, integrated barrier aneurysms while blending with the native vessel tissue, and has conducted numerous animal trials. Mobile Stem Cell recently launched in San Antonio for delivering animal stem cell therapies for veterinarians to use on otherwise untreatable animals.
Bridging the gap between research at UTSA and these commercialization activities is important. In light of this UTSA continues to grow entrepreneurship programs and business incubation on campus, and its Office of Commercialization and Innovation (OCI) has created a dedicated budget item for proof-of-principle projects, aimed at bridging the gap between research ideas and applied technologies. These funds target short-term demonstration of a proof of principle (POP), typically for a project duration of 3-6 months that clearly shows the concept can work. As an example, the OCI funded Dr. Jose Lopez-Ribot in the department of Biology to take five antifungal drug candidates through enteric animal testing and prove the efficacy of the compounds in fighting fungal biofilm infections — a clearly unmet need in the medical establishment. The success of this work is now leading to compound refinement activities with Dr. Doug Franz of UTSA’s Center for Innovation in Drug Discovery (CIDD), and will be ripe for a new university spin off in the coming years. The OCI will grow these proof of principle activities, and ultimately support UTSA technologies that have an invention disclosure, can be patented, and have a large enough market potential to result in returns to the university in excess of the cost of the POP funding and patent expenses.
These POP projects can help cover materials and students working with faculty to prove out novel new technologies, and can play a significant role in inspiring young researchers to explore and innovate. The faculty thus build knowledge and excitement that inspires UTSA students to excel in their studies, and helps grow the research mission of the university. Solving biomedical problems is just a natural fit in planting the seeds of innovation at UTSA.