Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, last week said that Connecticut Innovations has made a $500,000 seed-stage investment in Stevens Proof of Concept, a Stevens Institute spin-out company attempting to commercialize a point-of-care diagnostic device for pinpointing the source of muscular pain.
If successful, Stevens Proof of Concept, known as SPOC, will be another feather in the cap of Stevens’ Technogenesis program, which encourages all of its students, including undergraduates, to engage in entrepreneurship and technology commercialization along with institute faculty.
SPOC was formed in July 2005 by Helena Wisniewski, vice president of university research and enterprise development at Stevens; Norman Marcus, a pain-management physician and clinical associate professor at New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine; and three senior-year biomedical engineering students at Stevens.
According to Patrick Berzinski, director of university communications at Stevens, the device has its roots in Marcus’ New York-based pain-management clinic. Berzinski said that Marcus developed a methodology for locating the exact source of muscular pain, or myofascial trigger points, using electrical stimuli.
Berzinski said that through a personal contact at Stevens, Marcus became aware of Stevens’ Technogenesis program which, among other commercialization initiatives, encourages the formation of senior-year student design teams to work on technology commercialization projects.
“Dr. Marcus became aware that this was a possibility, and that they were a very economical consulting team to turn to,” Berzinski said. “They went through several prototype designs [while] they were still undergraduates. Basically they arrived at a very compact, streamlined design for this device, which could, with proprietary technology using electrical impulses, locate the exact source of the pain in a muscle group by stimulating each muscle.”
According to Stevens Institute, approximately 100 million people in the US suffer from chronic pain and approximately 80 percent of Americans suffer from some form of pain in their lifetime, making the potential market for a point-of-care pain diagnostic device “enormous.”
To commercialize its device, the Stevens team sought outside seed funding, and found it in the form of Connecticut Innovations, a quasi-public Connecticut-based organization that invests in early-stage Connecticut technology companies, university/industry research, and technology transfer.
One of the stipulations of receiving the funding was that SPOC had to move its offices to Connecticut, which it has, setting up shop in Stamford.
“SPOC sent its offices up there to take advantage of [Connecticut Innovations] taking this interest in the company,” Berzinski said, adding that similar resources in New Jersey are “usually very competitive.”
Stevens Institute has filed a US patent application, No. 20060224210, for the device.
Marcus is named as an inventor on the patent along with former Stevens students Ryan Stellar, Jeckin Shah, and Daniel Silva. However, Stevens Institute is listed as the sole patent assignee, despite the fact that Marcus is a faculty member at NYU Medical School. In addition, according to Stevens, SPOC is testing the device in clinical trials at NYU Medical.
It is unclear whether Marcus or NYU negotiated patenting rights to the technology prior to filing. Calls to Marcus’ New York offices were not returned in time for publication, and a representative from the NYU School of Medicine Office of Industrial Liaison/Technology Transfer was unaware of Marcus’ involvement in the project.
According to Berzinski, Marcus is “a party to the company,” and Stevens Institute holds an undisclosed stake. “Often if these are patented technologies, and students have developed them, the students will be on the patents, and therefore will receive royalties,” Berzinski said.
He added that negotiations for licensing will differ with each company and that Stevens “doesn’t disclose details of who gets what to protect the privacy of the parties involved.”
“The concept is that classroom education would include for undergraduates research and laboratory development of products from technology, and that they could also come into contact with real-world industry specialists who would assist in the commercialization process of the technology.”
A best-case scenario from Stevens’ perspective is that SPOC goes on to fully develop and bring to market the device or, more likely, is acquired by a larger medical device company.
The latter has happened before. In January 2006, Technogenesis spin-out PlasmaSol, which developed a technology called capillary discharge non-thermal plasma, was acquired for $17.5 million by Stryker, which is using the technology to provide equipment that sterilizes certain of its surgical products.
And in 2005, Stevens spin-out HydroGlobe, which developed products to remove heavy metals from water, was acquired for an undisclosed amount by Graver Technologies.
“The philosophy behind it is that the sales of these companies – both the upfront payment and the royalties from licensing technologies – comes back into the Technogenesis process, and begins to act as seed money for new companies,” Berzinski said.
The Technogenesis model is relatively new among university tech-transfer operations. Typically, only graduate students or faculty members participate in seeing basic research through to commercialization. But Berzinski said that Stevens offers an undergraduate program in business and technology.
Students in that program form senior design teams that analyze potential markets and develop a business plan for commercializing a technology. “So we now have science, engineering, and business undergrads coming together to work on these specific entrepreneurial technology projects,” Berzinski said.
Berzinski added that such activity has “been going on for a while de facto at Stevens,” but around 1999 the Technogenesis program was codified by Stevens researchers and the institute’s president.
“The concept is that classroom education would include for undergraduates research and laboratory development of products from technology, and that they could also come into contact with real-world industry specialists who would assist in the commercialization process of the technology,” Berzinski said. “That’s really been the direction of the curriculum over the last seven years or so when it was put down on paper as a new way to do entrepreneurial education.”