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OHSU Spins Out Four Companies in 2008 Amid Overall Growth in Entrepreneurship

Oregon Health and Science University’s Office of Technology and Research Collaborations said this week that it helped spin out four companies based on university research in fiscal year 2008, bringing to 37 the total number of OHSU startups since 2000.
The four startups round out a 2008 fiscal year in which the university saw growth in a number of technology transfer metrics, including issued patents, patent applications, licensing or option agreements, licensing revenues, and sponsored research agreements, according to statistics OHSU released earlier this year.
In addition, OHSU this week provided an update on some of its prior spinout companies, including 2005 startup MolecularMD, which recently secured $3 million in venture capital financing to support development of its cancer diagnostic testing services; and 2004 startup Najit Techologies, which has thus far amassed $2.8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
The four companies spun out from OHSU research in the fiscal year ended June 30 are Cascade LifeSciences, Flash Sensor Technology, Genefac, and Transmed Oncology.
Cascade, based in San Diego, is attempting to commercialize technology licensed from OHSU that could lead to therapeutic stem cell products for a wide array of human disease, according to a statement from the university. The technology is based on discoveries made by Soukrat Mitalipov and colleagues at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, a division of OSHU (see BTW, 12/3/2007).
Specifically, the researchers at ONPRC used somatic cell nuclear transfer and parthenogenesis to reprogram primate skin cells into embryonic stem cells that can be matched to individual patients, thereby avoiding the risk of immune rejection, OHSU said.
Flash Sensor Technology is technically not a direct OHSU startup, but a spinout of Virogenomics, a 2001 OHSU startup. ViroGenomics, based in Tigard, Ore., is developing biosensors capable of providing point-of-care diagnoses using existing and new disease markers as they are discovered, OHSU said.
The company’s lab-on-a-chip technology platform is based on the work of current OHSU scientist Arthur Vandenbark, and former OHSU researcher Rajendra Solanki, who is now at Portland State University.
Genefac, based in Portland, is attempting to commercialize technology to detect the activity of multiple transcription factors in biological samples.
Developed by William Mathers and Zheng Ye of OHSU’s Casey Eye Institute, the technology uses DNA probes containing a unique binding motif. According to OHSU, the company plans to market the technology as a test to identify the molecular profiles of cancer biopsies to guide personalized therapy.
Lastly, Transmed Oncology, based in Phoenix, Ariz., has optioned a pair of cancer therapeutics from OHSU, the university said. The first is a synthetic peptide called a bombesin receptor antagonist that may be able to suppress the growth of malignant cells in a wide variety of cancers, including lung, bone, breast, colon, pancreatic, prostate, and melanoma; and the second is a small-molecule chemotherapeutic that has shown potential as a treatment for prostate cancer, OHSU said.
The four startups cap a 2008 fiscal year in which the university saw an uptick in nearly every measurable technology transfer metric, according to an activity report released by OHSU’s OTRC earlier this year. For instance, 13 patents were issued to OHSU innovators in FY08, up from 10 the previous year and 9 in 2006; while the office filed 67 patent applications on behalf of researchers, up from 66 in 2007 and 49 in 2006.
Furthermore, OHSU inked 197 licensing or option agreements in FY08, up from 91 the previous year and 89 in 2006; while the university’s FY08 revenue from commercialization agreements was $4.7 million, up from $1.2 million the previous year. About $3.8 million of that total consisted of a one-time sublicensing fee received from OHSU start-up company Novocea.
Lastly, sponsored research agreements totaled 109 in FY08, a 55.7 percent increase over the 70 agreements signed in 2007; and revenue from those and prior sponsored research agreements totaled nearly $10 million in FY08, a 48.6 percent increase over the $6.7 million produced in the previous fiscal year.
In fact, the only categories in which OHSU reported a decline were startups, which dropped from five to four (the university spun out an average of three companies per year in the last five years); and faculty invention disclosures, which dropped to 108 in FY08 from 133 in the previous year.
The numbers reflect an “increasingly vibrant entrepreneurial culture” at OHSU, school officials said in a statement earlier this year.
In addition, OHSU’s tech-transfer numbers may make a good measuring stick for biomedical-related tech transfer at universities and non-profit research institutes in general because OHSU conducts research and commercializes technology solely in the biomedical arena.
In terms of previous spinouts, OHSU said that Portland-based MolecularMD, which was founded in late 2005 to commercialize diagnostic testing services developed by researchers Brian Druker and Michael Henrich (see BTW, 5/28/2007), recently closed a $3 million financing round through area VC firm Ballast Point Ventures.
Meantime, Najit Technologies, founded in 2004, is within two years of starting human clinical trials on a vaccine for yellow fever, CEO John Fitchen said in a statement. The company, also based in Portland, has been awarded an aggregate so far of $2.8 million in funding from the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, OHSU said. The company’s primary focus is on the development of rapid, field-usable diagnostic assays and vaccines for infectious diseases that affect millions in developing countries.
OHSU also touted the impact its spinout companies have had on the local economy. According to the university, OHSU research has accounted for 68 startups since the early 1970s. Twenty-one of these companies are still based in Oregon and employ a total of 2,400 people, OHSU said. Approximately 600 more are employed by spinouts that have relocated out of state.

OHSU officials were unavailable for further comment before press time.

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