The Alfred Mann Institute for Biomedical Development at Purdue University, established last year to help commercialize basic biomedical technologies developed by Purdue researchers, this week revealed the first four projects it will fund.
Created with a $100 million gift from the Alfred Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering, AMI Purdue said it will distribute a total of $375,000 to support proof-of-concept research in the areas of tendon and ligament repair and replacement; early detection of breast cancer; and wound healing and scar amelioration.
If the projects graduate the proof-of-concept stage, AMI Purdue may choose to provide additional funding for the project, or license associated intellectual property from Purdue and seek industrial development partners to further drive commercialization, an AMI official said.
Other institutions considering establishing similar institutes with Mann Foundation support will be watching this last step closely to see how much influence the foundation will exert over intellectual property rights and project development — a concern that some raised last year when AMI Purdue launched.
So far, this hasn’t been an issue, as Mann Foundation has had “zero-percent” involvement with selecting and funding the research projects, Steve Mogensen, managing director of AMI Purdue, told BTW last week.
“The decision to fund the four projects was made by the AMI Purdue team,” which consists of Mogensen and two other AMI executives, Mogensen said. “I don’t think [the Mann Foundation] has the ability to influence the technology we’re developing up front. Later on, certainly, they are going to have final say on whether we continue to invest in a development project.
“The selection process is fairly broad, because our mission is life sciences and biomedical technology,” Mogensen added. “Any disclosure that comes in to the Purdue [Office of Technology Commercialization] in those areas, they are obligated to disclose that to [AMI].”
Mogensen said that AMI representatives participate in technology-assessment meetings with OTC staff every two weeks so it is essentially aware of all disclosures coming through the office, regardless of its relationship to life sciences.
“If we have an interest in the ones that are life sciences-related, then we schedule a meeting with the faculty to get a presentation on the technology, and basically go from there,” he said.
The four Purdue faculty members chosen for funding in the first round are:
- Ozan Akkus, an associate professor of biomedical engineering who is developing a procedure that uses specially treated collagen to aid in the repair or replacement of tendons and ligaments;
- Eric Nauman, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering who is developing tissue scaffolding to improve damaged ligament reattachment to bone structures;
- Stephen Beaudoin, a professor of chemical engineering who is developing an early detection method for breast cancer using an electrochemical biosensor; and
- Alyssa Panitch, an associate professor of biomedical engineering who is developing a method to reduce scarring and improve healing of surgical wounds, and to prevent the formation of post-surgical blood clots, which can lead to stroke.
The institute did not disclose the exact amount awarded to each project, though Mogensen said that the awards are all in the range of $75,000 to $100,000.
If the research projects continue to show promise, AMI will have a few choices it can make, one of which is to request additional funding from the AMI board, which comprises five individuals each from Purdue and the Mann Foundation.
“This hasn’t happened yet, but my hunch is that if we present a legitimate business case to support further development of a project, then the board is going to support that,” Mogensen said.
“I don’t think [the Mann Foundation] has the ability to influence the technology we’re developing up front. Later on, certainly, they are going to have final say on whether we continue to invest in a development project.”
AMI could also choose to license the technology from Purdue for further development, and then either create a spinout company around it if it is a promising platform technology, or identify an existing corporate partner as a commercialization partner. The Mann Foundation has stated that it may be able to leverage its many industry relationships to help with this process.
This is the area that some critics of the Mann Institute model feel may require scrutiny moving forward. Reports circulated last year that other schools being considered as locales for a Mann Institute, including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and NC State University, had difficulty negotiating certain terms with the Mann Foundation for access to IP.
A UNC official told BTW at the time that this was the biggest sticking point in its discussions with the Mann Foundation, but that it hoped to learn from the Purdue model and continue exploring the possibility of establishing an institute at UNC (see BTW, 3/19/2007).
AMI Purdue was established last year with a $100 million gift from the Mann Foundation, a Santa Clarita, Calif.-based medical research foundation whose mission is to bring advanced medical technologies to the public
Under the arrangement, Purdue became home to the third Mann Foundation-supported technology-commercialization institute in the world. In 2001, the foundation established the Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California; and in 2006 it said it would fund the Mann Institute for Biomedical Development at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, which opened last July after the Purdue gift was announced.
AMI Purdue is temporarily housed in Mann Hall on the Purdue campus, but will eventually move to the Discovery Learning Center in Purdue’s Discovery Park incubator when the building is completed in late 2009.
The Discovery Park is also home to many Purdue spinout companies, and the school’s OTC and Research Foundation are also nearby. AMI Purdue works very closely with both to identify technologies that AMI might support, according to Mogensen.
Mogensen also said that AMI Purdue’s dealings with the Purdue OTC have thus far been smooth. “They’ve done a great job,” Mogensen said. “I’m not really sure where the sticking point is; maybe we’ll find out.”
Basically, Mogensen added, AMI Purdue is acting like the OTC, “except we have more money to fund early-stage development.” At the same time, he noted that it was important to distinguish itself from an entity akin to a venture capital firm.
“As we’re doing this development, we’re looking at potential exit strategies — either licensing it, selling it, or spinning it out,” Mogensen said. “AMI Purdue is not going to be like a standard VC company where you have board seats and such. We would probably help the principal investigator find a management team, give them the tech, and then we’re done. We’ll help all we can, but we wouldn’t have any type of financial gain.”
Any revenues that come back to AMI through a licensing agreement, product royalties, or exit would mostly be returned to Purdue to be distributed as usual through its tech-transfer revenue-sharing policy. Of that share “a small chunk goes back into the endowment, which allows us to continue to fund additional projects,” Mogensen said.
Last year, AMI said that it was aiming to identify approximately two new biomedical projects with commercialization potential per year out of the hundreds at Purdue, and might foster as many as six projects when in full operation.
With the four recently announced projects, it has exceeded its initial goal. Mogensen said that an additional six projects are currently under consideration for funding.
“Of those, we may do two or three or four, and once we decide to do them, it may take a different amount of time before each one of those gets funded,” he said.