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Columbia U Licenses IVF Tech to Israeli Startup; and Retinal-Imaging Device to NJ Spinout

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This article was originally published on April 17.

Columbia University's tech-transfer arm said this month that it has outlicensed a pair of medical devices developed by physician researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center.

The first deal gives Vital View, a startup based in Misgav, Israel, an exclusive license to a device designed to improve the success of in vitro fertilization. The deal was particularly attractive to Columbia because of the nascent nature of the technology, a university tech-transfer official said.

The second deal gives Bridgewater, NJ-based diagnostics firm and recent Columbia spinout PCAsso Diagnostics a license to an imaging device designed to diagnose retinal vascular leakage disorders.

Financial terms have not been disclosed for either of the agreements.

The technology that Columbia Science and Technology Ventures licensed to Vital was invented by Gary Nakhuda, a reproductive endocrinologist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at CUMC.

Typically in IVF, an in vitro embryo is delivered via catheter to the womb to develop naturally. Navigating the catheter through the cervical canal and into the uterine cavity may be technically difficult, and current techniques rely primarily on the physician's sense of feel, Columbia said.

Difficult or traumatic embryo transfers are associated with lower IVF pregnancy rates, and can lead to complications that decrease the success of subsequent attempts.

The new device uses microfiberoptic technology to enable physicians to directly visualize the anatomy during the embryo-transfer step, Columbia said.

IVF has "advanced significantly since it was first performed more than 30 years ago, but the one aspect that has seen little change is the embryo-transfer procedure," Nakhuda said in a statement.

"Although this is the ultimate and crucial step, it is still typically performed in a relatively unsophisticated fashion using a 'blind' technique," he added. In 2004, more than 500,000 IVF procedures were performed worldwide, and this number is expected to exceed 1.3 million by 2012, Columbia said.

Donna See, Columbia STV's director of strategic initiatives and the licensing officer who negotiated the deal, wrote in an e-mail to BTW that the deal with Vital View deal was "an attractive tech-transfer model for early-stage technologies."

Vital View is a portfolio company of the Misgav Venture Accelerator, an Israeli incubator founded in 1992 by the Trendlines Group, an Israeli business-development and marketing consulting firm. According to the group's website, MVA is the only Israeli incubator owned by a business-development firm. As such, portfolio companies receive support from the $2 million Trendlines Israel Fund and the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.

See said that Misgav formed Vital View specifically to in-license and develop the Columbia technology by leveraging these private and government funds.

"Our technology was at the concept stage with no prototype," See told BTW. "It’s challenging to find industry licensees and private investors, such as established medical-technology companies or venture-capital firms willing to support proof-of-concept and technology development.

"Misgav’s model not only offers funding for development … but also strong, relevant engineering expertise on-hand and, particularly for IVF, excellent clinical resources in Israel," See added. In addition, Misgav has "a strong business-development and market-research arm" through parent company Trendlines to further support business planning and regulatory development, she said.

"We will continue to work closely with Misgav during this incubation stage, particularly with respect to management of the IP," See said.

Columbia said that Vital View has received an undisclosed amount of financing to develop prototypes of the device, and that it expects to begin clinically evaluating the technology later this year.

Painting the Retina

In its second deal announced this month, Columbia STV granted a worldwide exclusive license to PCAsso Diagnostics for an imaging technology called Poly-Chromatic Angiography.

The technology was invented by Samir Tari, a former fellow at the Harkness Eye Institute at CUMC. Tari founded PCAsso Diagnostics last year to bring the technology to market, and in February completed the licensing deal with Columbia STV.

One of the first applications that PCAsso will pursue with the technology is diagnosing certain retinal disorders caused by leaky blood vessels, in particular a complication of diabetes called diabetic retinopathy.

In this condition, which affects more than 8 million Americans, diabetes prevents an adequate supply of blood from reaching the retina by damaging the small blood vessels feeding it. The retina reacts by secreting inflammatory mediators and other factors that cause fluid to leak and accumulate in the central part of the retina, resulting in impaired vision.

There are several current techniques for diagnosing this vascular leakage, the most popular of which is fluorescein angiography, which only provides qualitative information about the leakage, Columbia said. Quantitative measurements of the leakage would provide a better idea of disease severity and allow physicians to optimize treatment.

According to a PCT patent application filed by Tari and colleagues in January, PCA uses "different labels or dyes attached, adsorbed, or encapsulated onto or within differently sized particles, beads, colloids, or soluble conjugates of the label."

A set of one size of these particles can be distinguished from another set of a different size by their labels or dyes, and thus a combination of multiple sets can be used to specifically detect and quantify leakage or breakdown of blood barriers, according to the patent application.

"I felt there was a great need for a better way to grade the disease, a more granular way," Tari said in a statement. "PCA will help ophthalmologists personalize treatment according to disease severity so that patients with mild retinal diseases do not have to receive the same treatment as patients with severe ones."

The company said that it plans to extend the use of PCA to help guide the treatment of other retinal disorders such as wet age-related macular degeneration, uveitis, retinitis pigmentosa, retinal vein occlusions, and macular edema following cataract surgery.

In addition, with modifications the technology may be useful for diagnosing diseases in other organs, such as kidneys and the brain, and for diagnosing certain cancer types, PCAsso said.

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