“We hope through this process the program will move more and more out to companies that are taking the lead and collaborating with universities rather than vice versa.”
Ohio’s Third Frontier Awards $23M to Public-Private Biomed Research Projects
The Ohio Third Frontier Commission last week announced that it has awarded six public-private research groups a total of $23 million through the Ohio Biomedical Research Commercialization Program to help commercialize promising biomedical technologies.
For the second time in the history of the 5-year-old program an Ohio-based life-sciences company will lead one of the grants. The OBRCP has traditionally named a university or non-profit research institution to head funded projects.
The decision to once again appoint a company to lead a project is a sign that the program is now funding more applied research with an eye toward commercializing biomedical innovations in the state, a program official said this week.
The six new grants (see below for more detail) bring the total number of awards to 22 and the total amount of money awarded to about $129 million since the program was launched in 2003.
Marc Cloutier, senior advisor for biotechnology for the Ohio Department of Development, and program manager for the OBRCP grants, told BTW this week that this year’s awards are comparable in size and number to those in previous years.
The Third Frontier Program is a 10-year, $1.6 billion economic development initiative launched in February 2002 and designed to expand Ohio's high-tech research capabilities and promote innovation and company formation.
The OBRCP, formerly called the Biomedical Research and Technology Transfer Partnership Award Program, was established as Third Frontier’s main funding mechanism to promote biomedical commercialization.
The name change, which occurred in 2006, has coincided with a recent effort by the program to fund more applied research projects that have a more defined commercialization goal, Cloutier said.
“It’s the nature of the process that it tends to favor more academic-oriented research, but we have been pushing them to do more applied research,” Cloutier said. “It is interesting to note the difference and progression from the first awards; there was a lot of very basic research in there.”
The ODD and Third Frontier now require primary projects to be ready within three years of their funding “to seriously talk” with regulatory agencies about commercializing their technology, Cloutier added.
“And we hope through this process the program will move more and more out to companies that are taking the lead and collaborating with universities rather than vice versa,” Cloutier said.
According to Cloutier, lead collaborators are responsible for the overall project and its management, and are required to budget for each of the partner entities on a grant and file invoices and progress reports. “I follow up with them on at least a semi-annual basis where they do a full-blown site visit and presentation,” Cloutier said.
Of the six awards made this year, one features an Ohio company — Athens-based Diagnostic Hybrids — as the lead collaborator. It is the second time that a company has served as lead collaborator on an award. The first is a $4.7 million grant awarded in 2006 to a group led by Cleveland-based ChanTest, to create ion channel cell lines to hunt for drug candidates for diseases that have ion channels as primary targets.
The rest of this year’s awards feature an academic institution as the lead collaborator: The Cleveland Clinic is lead collaborator on four of the projects, while Case Western Reserve University is lead collaborator on one project, but is collaborating on five of the six projects.
The high concentration of collaborators in the Cleveland area is primarily due to the fact that Cleveland Clinic and Case Western boast two of the top biomedical research programs in the state, Cloutier said. The ODD and Third Frontier hope that expanding the awards to feature lead industrial collaborators will also expand the awards to other regions of the state.
Thus far, Cloutier said, it has been difficult identifying lead industrial partners because of the basic nature of the research. “The expanse of the research at the universities and Cleveland Clinic is obviously so much larger, and companies tend to be so very focused,” he said.
Despite the basic nature of the research, the program has spawned some successful university spinouts that the program hopes can be parlayed into additional industrial partners on future grants, Cloutier said. “The thing is that it takes so much time for these startups to really start bringing in money,” he said.
Not counting this year’s awards, the 16 previous projects have yielded between 14 and 16 spinouts or startups, Cloutier estimated. A particularly notable spinout is NDI Medical, which was borne in 2003 out of project on neurostimulation and neuromodulation led by Case Western Reserve.
At the time NDI’s founder was its only employee, but today the firm employs 28 people. In May the company sold a bladder pacing system called MEDSTIM for $42 million to Minneapolis-based medical device company Medtronic, and plans to use the proceeds to support other application areas.
Other successes have been recorded by the Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at Case Western, which received $8 million in funding in 2006 and has launched five businesses, four of which are still in operation.
One of these companies, ArterioCyte, is developing stem cell therapies for treating diseases linked to poor blood flow. In January the Cleveland-based company acquired a product called Magellan from Medtronic that concentrates platelets from a patient’s blood for wound healing and cell-harvesting applications.
One of this year’s award recipients, a collaboration between Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland-based companies Copernicus Therapeutics and Polgenix, is building upon the success of an award granted in 2005.
That award was for developing nucleic acid-nanoparticle technologies at Copernicus and Case Western for treating eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, Mark Cooper, senior vice president of science and medical affairs at Copernicus and co-principal investigator on this year’s grant, told BTW.
“When it came time for renewal, we scanned the horizon and put together a program in nanoparticle technology with a slightly different focus, but which highlighted success in the old program and brought on some new ones — namely the Polgenix technology, which interfaces well by evaluating the status of the retina, which is very important in evaluating patients within our program to treat blinding disorders of the eye with gene therapy.”
Cooper said that each entity on the project has its own objectives, but the projects are not unique to a given entity. “In the eye program, we’re developing and testing the therapeutic, and Polgenix is developing and testing the imaging devices to determine if there is improvement in the biology of the retina.”
Another startup company called Akrotome Imaging, founded this year by grant co-PI and Case Western professor Jim Basilion, will evaluate the use of imaging probes that interact with the unique biology of tumors to contrast them with normal cells.
“As we’re looking at new opportunities in treating various diseases of the back of the eye, it is very helpful to have collaborative academic scientists that bring to bear a wealth of expertise in biology and these diseases,” Cooper said.
“Those kinds of interactions are extraordinarily valuable – to have the day-to-day involvement of these groups looking at data as it is developed,” he added. “And we bring to bear a lot of drug-development and regulatory experience. It is synergistic from the point of science, commercialization, and regulatory affairs.”
The Ohio Third Frontier Commission last week announced six new awards through the Ohio Biomedical Research Commercialization Program. Each award is made for three years to a research group comprising scientists from academia and industry, and requires a one-to-one match from the recipients.
The fiscal year 2008 awards are contingent upon Ohio State controlling board approval, and were made to the following programs, with lead collaborators listed first: