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Syntermed Licenses Emory Cardiac-Imaging Software Supported by GRA Grant, Co. Match

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Emory University has licensed to Atlanta-based medical imaging and software company Syntermed a software package designed to improve the quality and accessibility of nuclear cardiology images, Emory said last week.
 
Emory scientists developed the software, called the Emory Reconstruction Toolbox, with the support of a $75,000 Technology Partnerships grant from the Georgia Research Alliance and a dollar-for-dollar match from Syntermed.
 
The technology will also be the latest addition to the Emory Cardiac Toolbox, a set of cardiac imaging tools marketed by Syntermed and largely developed by Emory scientists over the last 20 years.
 
The Emory Reconstruction Toolbox, or ERTb, was developed by Ernest Garcia, a professor of radiology at Emory and a scientific founder and chief scientific advisor of Syntermed; assistant professor of radiology Ji Chen; and colleagues, to improve the quality of single-photon emission computerized tomography.
 
Specifically, the software performs image reconstruction and synthesis, quality control, and correction for patient and physical phenomena to provide high-quality myocardial perfusion SPECT, Emory said.
 
“SPECT studies are a critical part of diagnosis and prognosis of coronary artery disease,” Garcia said in a statement. “Among other things, the ERTb software was developed to automate the detection and correction of patient motion, reconstruct and synthesize images, and correct subtle physical changes that can degrade accuracy in SPECT imaging.”
 
Syntermed will market ERTb as ReconTools, which it introduced this week at the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology annual meeting in Boston. Financial terms of the Emory licensing agreement were not disclosed.
 
The software will become part of the original Emory Cardiac Toolbox, technology upon which Syntermed was founded in 1999. Garcia in part developed the original ECT software along with other scientists from Emory and Georgia Tech University.
 
As such, Emory and Georgia Tech are co-owners of Syntermed, and the company has continued to license various technologies to build upon the ECT package from Emory over the past decade.
 
Most recently, in June, Syntermed licensed a tool from the university called SyncTool, which uses multiharmonic phase analysis to quickly and reliably determine if heart failure patients will benefit from cardiac resynchronization therapy (see BTW, 6/18/2008).
 
According to Syntermed, the ECT is used in approximately 40 percent of the nuclear cardiology laboratories in the US, and the package has been licensed to medical imaging companies including GE Healthcare, Siemens Medical Solutions, Philips Medical Systems, Hitachi Medical Systems, McKesson Information Solutions, Cardinal Health, MedImage, Mediso, Medx, Segami, and Thinking Systems.
 

“For some time, [GRA] worked with [Ernest Garcia] and others at Emory to help build the infrastructure to develop some of this high-level sophisticated imaging technology. The software package is essentially an outgrowth of that.”

This makes ECT and Syntermed one of the biggest tech-transfer and spinout successes from Emory in terms of market impact and breadth of use. Emory also receives ongoing undisclosed royalties on sales of the ECT. According to an Emory spokesperson, the school has received more than $6 million dollars in royalties from Syntermed since licensing the original ECT technology to the company in December 2000.
 
GRAvy Train
 
Emory and Syntermed have thrived in part due to assistance provided over the years from the Georgia Research Alliance, the state’s technology-based economic-development engine.
 
According to Kathleen Robichaud, director of communications for GRA, the organization’s goal is to drive the growth of innovation and business in the state, which it does through three main programs: Eminent Scholars, in which it helps recruit entrepreneurial scientists to the six main state universities it works with; Research Centers, which describes investments it makes in infrastructure at those universities to support R&D in targeted areas; and Commercialization.
 
The last program, Commercialization, consists of three main initiatives: VentureLab, launched in 2002 to identify and fund university technologies with commercial potential; a $40 million Venture Capital Fund designed to enable private equity firms in the state to invest in startup companies, and which GRA is still putting the finishing touches on (see BTW, 1/23/2008); and the Technology Partnerships program, which are grants made to university-developed technologies that require a dollar-for-dollar match from an industry partner.
 
Oftentimes these programs overlap or work in succession to help nurture a promising technology along from its earliest stages in a university laboratory to commercialization, Robichaud said. Such is the case with the ECT technology, for which GRA has helped provide research infrastructure at Emory in recent years.
 
“For some time, [GRA] worked with [Garcia] and others at Emory to help build the infrastructure to develop some of this high-level sophisticated imaging technology,” Robichaud said. “The software package is essentially an outgrowth of that.
 
“In turn, Emory has looked for opportunities to license the technologies so they are having both a health and economic impact,” she added. “Syntermed is a great Georgia company that can take this IP and carry it forward into its full market potential.”
 
Robichaud did not provide details on the investments it has made at Emory to help further development of the ECT. However, last year the organization did award Garcia’s team at Emory $75,000 over one year through the Technology Partnerships program to develop the latest software tool. Under the terms of the program, Syntermed was required to match this grant for $150,000 total funding.
 
This was the first Technology Partnership grant awarded to the Emory-Syntermed project, which is eligible for additional awards moving forward. Second- and third-round awards would require a larger investment by the company compared to the amount of the award from GRA, Robichaud said.
 
In a statement, Lee Herron, vice president of commercialization at GRA, said that “a major goal of the Georgia Research Alliance is to help Georgia companies tap into the research resources of our own universities. This collaboration is an excellent example of how this can lead to new product and market opportunities.”
 
Robichaud estimates that since the Technology Partnerships Program was launched in 2002, it has doled out some $12 million in grants to more than 70 public-private partnerships. In the last three years, GRA has awarded projects a total of $5.4 million, which has been matched with nearly $11.9 million from industry partners.
 
Although GRA thus far considers the program a success, economic concerns in the state of Georgia may result in fewer awards and less money awarded this year, according to Robichaud. The awards typically begin on July 1 of each year, but GRA has yet to announce award recipients for the current year.

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