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Micronics Licenses 'Molecular Beacons' From UMDNJ's PHRI Properties for Dx, Forensics Use


PHRI Properties, a non-profit corporation owned by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, has granted a non-exclusive license for its molecular beacons technology to Micronics for use in point-of-care diagnostic tests and forensic applications, Micronics said this week.

Micronics is the most recent entity to license the molecular beacons technology, which was originally developed at non-profit research organization the Public Health Research Institute, but was assigned to UMDNJ in 2006 when PHRI was incorporated into UMDNJ's New Jersey Medical School.

PHRI and PHRI Properties have now granted more than 40 non-exclusive licenses to the technology for various applications in several industry sectors, according to UMDNJ.

Micronics, based in Redmond, Wash., develops point-of-care molecular diagnostics for infectious disease detection, diagnosis, and treatment monitoring. The company, which spun out of the University of Washington more than 10 years ago, has licensed and developed a patent estate in the area of microfluidics that enable biological samples to be processed directly in disposable devices.

According to PHRI, the molecular beacons are hybridization probes that enable direct detection of specific nucleic acids in living cells and diagnostic assays. The probes are hairpin-shaped oligonucleotides with a fluorophore at one end and a non-fluorescent quencher at the other end.

When the probes are not bound to a target nucleic acid, the fluorophore is in contact with the quencher and the probes are dark. When these probes bind their targets, they reconfigure to separate the fluorophore from the quencher, resulting in a bright fluorescent signal that indicates the presence of the target.

"The unique thing we're doing with the molecular beacons technology is combining it with our microfluidics technology to develop near-patient point-of-care diagnostics for infectious disease and for forensic testing," Karen Hedine, president and CEO of Micronics, told BTW this week.

"The license isn't specific to the near-patient aspect; it's for diagnosing infectious disease," she added. "But our format is to do be able to do rapid testing at a patient's bedside, on the battlefield, in an emergency room, et cetera."

Hedine said that Micronic's initial focus is on developing point-of-care tests for diarrheal disease, fever pathogens such as malaria and dengue, sexually transmitted diseases, and respiratory pathogens. The company is also working on an HIV product, she added.

Hedine said that Micronics became aware of the PHRI Properties technology because "in the world of molecular diagnostics there are only a handful of proven and well-vetted technologies."

She added that Micronics seeks out "well-established chemistries and licensing opportunities that would allow us to bring forward cost-effective products. It's safe to say that this license agreement was very reasonable in comparison to other licenses we could have obtained." She did not elaborate on financial details of the agreement with PHRI Properties.

It is unclear how lucrative the molecular beacons IP portfolio has been for PHRI, but the patents, which are the subject of more than 40 licensing agreements, are likely some of the most sought-after in UMDNJ's portfolio.

PHRI was founded in 1941 in New York. PHRI investigator Fred Kramer invented and patented the molecular beacons technology over the course of several years in the 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2002, PHRI moved to the International Center for Public Health at UMDNJ, and in December 2006 was officially incorporated into the New Jersey Medical School, one of UMDNJ's eight schools on five New Jersey campuses.

As part of this move, the molecular beacons technology was assigned to PHRI Properties, a wholly owned nonprofit corporation of UMDNJ. It is unclear when PHRI Properties was founded or how its tech-transfer activities overlap with those of UMDNJ.

Kramer, who remains a principal investigator at PHRI, is also associate director of the Office of Patents and Licensing at UMDNJ. Kramer and representatives from the UMDNJ OPL were not immediately available for comment.

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