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RTDC of Cape Cod, Mass., to Provide Tech-Transfer Services to Marine Biological Laboratory


By Ben Butkus

The Regional Technology Development Corp. of Cape Cod said this week that it has inked an agreement with the Marine Biological Laboratory to serve as MBL's technology-development and -commercialization organization.

The pact is similar to a tech-transfer partnership announced in January between RTDC and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Under the agreements, RTDC will work under contract to provide a variety of tech-transfer services to the laboratories. These activities include market research, patenting, intellectual property licensing, and startup creation, Robert Curtis, CEO of RTDC, told BTW this week.

"We do everything from sweat equity for a startup, in terms of building a business plan, finding management, and talking with investors; but we also look at inventions from both institutions and determine whether we should file for IP protection, and if we do, what are the potential markets and the end users of a licensing deal. And we do the actual licensing work," Curtis said.

MBL and RTDC officially signed their pact in April but publicly announced the partnership this week. An informal relationship between the two has existed since at least June 2008, when the organizations jointly received $10 million under the $1 billion statewide life sciences investment bill enacted at that time (see BTW, 6/18/2008).

Curtis said that money, though originally earmarked for a tech-transfer partnership between the two, ended up mostly supporting infrastructure development at MBL.

Now, under the recently signed tech-transfer partnership, the organizations are already working on a pair of initiatives: a proposed collaboration with WHOI and other undisclosed regional partners to explore the feasibility of using algae as an alternative energy source; and a proposed Northeast-based shellfish farming venture in collaboration with the University of Maine.

Projects such as the joint research and tech-commercialization initiative with WHOI are expected benefits of MBL's new affiliation with RTDC, according to Joshua Hamilton, chief academic and scientific officer of MBL.

"Given the creation of the Woods Hole Consortium — an alliance which comprises the MBL, WHOI, and the Woods Hole Research Center — RTDC's existing relationship with WHOI adds value to our partnership because of our goals to pursue joint projects," Hamilton said in a statement.

And despite the heavy marine biology slant to their tech-commercialization efforts, Curtis said that the technologies from both its clients are expected to have other, broader life sciences applications.

"It tends to be marine-driven, but is not exclusive in that area," Curtis said. "We're looking at a technology right now that might have environmental and human diagnostic capabilities," he added, declining to elaborate. "But many of the techs fall under the environmental or energy or life sciences space."

Curtis' background meshes well with that notion. He was formerly co-founder, president, and CEO of Yale University spinout HistoRx; and has founded or co-founded nine biotech or environmental tech companies over the last 15 years, including CombiChem, Pharmacopeia, MetaMorphix, Cape Aquaculture Technologies, and Cambridge Neuroscience. Curtis is also a former director of licensing and development with Pfizer.

RTDC was founded almost two years ago as a non-profit "virtual incubator" to facilitate tech-transfer and -commercialization from affiliated local research institutions. Thus far MBL and WHOI, both located in Woods Hole, Mass., are its only research institution clients.

Curtis said that RTDC also recently helped launch a water-testing startup out of WHOI called Petrel Biosensors. "We're just starting to seek investor funding, either venture or angel, for that company," Curtis said. He also said that RTDC helped Bourne, Mass.-based pollutant-removal firm Environmental Operating Solutions raise around $2 million in venture capital last year.

But RTDC's primary focus now is moving technologies from MBL and WHOI from the lab to the marketplace.

"What's really unique about it from a tech-transfer standpoint is that most institutions do this in-house," Curtis said. "Here we have a small marine-driven community with both life sciences and oceanic engineering research, and they basically have said that, in order to do this at the level they want to, that they are going to outsource this instead of trying to build it in house.

"We're all about economic development and getting technologies out into the marketplace, so it's a great opportunity," Curtis added.

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