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Tech Transfer Tidbits: Feb 25, 2009

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Battelle Ventures Invests $5M in MIT Drug-Discovery Outfit Hepregen

Battelle Ventures and its Tennessee-based affiliate, Innovation Valley Partners, said this week that they have committed to a $5 million Series A investment in Hepregen Corporation, a spinout of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Hepregen is developing bioengineered micro-liver platform technology for drug discovery and development. The company said that it received $3 million of the investment last summer, leaving an additional $2 million committed and available at management's request.

MIT scientists Sangeeta Bhatia and Salman Khetani are the co-founders of Hepregen, which has an exclusive license agreement with the school for 10 patents and patent applications, including two core patents and two applications that relate to the Hepregen micro-liver platform technology.

This intellectual property portfolio represents more than 15 years of research by Bhatia, an MIT professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator who will serve as chair of Hepregen's scientific advisory board and a consultant to the company.

Khetani co-developed the company's platform technology and is now Hepregen's director of research. He was an MIT postdoctoral fellow who worked with Bhatia in the field of liver-tissue engineering.

"Hepregen's in vitro model mimics the in vivo human liver, offering a bioengineered solution for predicting the liver's response to drugs along the path of development," Battelle Ventures General Partner Mort Collins said in a statement. "The technology gives every indication of presenting a breakthrough for toxicity screening and a new platform for drug discovery."

Battelle Ventures and its affiliate fund IVP have a combined $255 million under management to create and accelerate the development of early-stage technology companies.

The funds have close ties with the tech-transfer offices of the national laboratories that Battelle Memorial Institute manages or co-manages for the US Department of Energy, and has similar relationships with several university tech-transfer offices.

Battelle Memorial Institute is the $220-million Battelle Ventures fund's sole limited partner, while Eastern Tennessee business leaders back the $35-million IVP fund. The two funds invest side by side in all deals.

Hepregen is the eighth company in the funds' health-and-life-sciences portfolio and is that sector's third spinout from a university or national laboratory, Battelle said.

Cardiovascular device company Endovalve was spun out of the University of Pennsylvania and regenerative medicine firm NellOne Therapeutics was spun out of the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


Wayne State U, County Set to Open Incubator Park for Stem-Cell Shops in Michigan

The research and technology park of Wayne State University in Detroit and the government of neighboring Wayne County plan to open in four months Michigan's first laboratory designed to help researchers commercialize drugs and other products derived from human embryonic stem cells, according to an official involved with the deal.

The roughly $3 million Stem Cell Commercialization Facility comes less than a year after state voters approved repealing restrictions on such research. The facility will open within 2,508 square feet of TechOne, the 100,000-square-foot former Chevrolet Creative Services auto design facility that has been converted into the first of as many as three planned buildings that will eventually comprise the technology park, called TechTown.

"We expect the place to be finished by the end of the second quarter, that's June 30. Companies and research workers will be moving in there from that period onward," Randal Charlton, TechTown's executive director, told BTW sister publication BioRegion News last week.

"What we've done so far is to do all the basic infrastructure work — air conditioning, and so forth," Charlton added. "Over the next 90 days, the equipment will be moved in, and the lab will be built out."

Five companies — all early-stage spinouts of Wayne State's School of Medicine and other departments of the university — have committed to using the new stem cell lab. They are: Regenerate, GliaGen, Diamond Research, Matthew Research, and Lakeshore Life Sciences. Additional companies are in talks to join them.

TechTown has also developed collaborations with the state's two largest academic research institutions — the University of Michigan and Michigan State University — in an effort to expand into stem cell collaborations, Charlton said.

For more on the stem cell commercialization efforts, see the Feb. 23 issue of BioRegion News.


Defyrus Licenses Vaccine IP Portfolio from UK's Ministry of Defence

Canadian Biodefense company Defyrus said last week that it has signed an exclusive, worldwide license to a vaccine patent portfolio created by the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and licensed by Ploughshare Innovation.

The licensed intellectual property includes 27 issued and pending international patents and describes the production of multi-valent vaccines for preventing alpha-viral infections resulting from bioterrorism or endemic disease. The patents will form the IP foundation of Defyrus' vaccine-development programs.

Defyrus and Ploughshare, a tech-transfer agency of the UK Ministry of Defence, plan to expand their partnership this year to include preclinical safety and efficacy studies, the company said.

Financial details of the licensing agreement were not disclosed.


Columbia U DNA Sequencing Shop Intelligent Bio-Systems Nets Undisclosed Financing

Columbia University Science and Technology Ventures said this week that Intelligent Bio-Systems, an exclusive licensee of certain Columbia DNA sequencing patents, has closed an undisclosed round of financing.

Norwich Ventures of Waltham, Mass., led the financing round. IBS is developing DNA sequencing systems using massive parallel sequencing on a proprietary chip.

"We are very pleased to have Norwich Ventures and additional investors in this round," Steven Gordon, CEO of IBS, said in a statement. He did not disclose the additional investors.

Gordon added that the investment will allow IBS to advance its prototype sequencer and deliver working instruments to the laboratories of undisclosed early-access collaborators this year.


Kauffman Foundation Accepting Entrepreneur Postdoc Applications

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation said last week that it is now accepting applications for its new Entrepreneur Postdoctoral Fellowship program, which will train researchers in the area of technology commercialization and startup formation.

Program participants will learn how to evaluate research for marketplace potential and elements of the tech-transfer process. Each fellow will be matched with a business mentor with a scientific background, as well as an academic advisor.

The 12 postdocs will be selected in August, and the 2009-2010 program will begin in October, Kauffman said.

Applications can be submitted through the Kauffman website, and must be completed by May 1. Applicants' academic advisor submissions must be received by May 15.

The Scan

Should've Been Spotted Sooner

Scientists tell the Guardian that SARS-CoV-2 testing issues at a UK lab should have been noticed earlier.

For Martian Fuel

Researchers have outlined a plan to produce rocket fuel on Mars that uses a combination of sunlight, carbon dioxide, frozen water, cyanobacteria, and engineered E. coli, according to Gizmodo.

To Boost Rapid Testing

The Washington Post writes that new US programs aim to boost the availability of rapid at-home SARS-CoV-2 tests.

PNAS Papers on Strawberry Evolution, Cell Cycle Regulators, False-Positive Triplex Gene Editing

In PNAS this week: strawberry pan-genome, cell cycle-related roles for MDM2 and MDMX, and more.