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University of Kentucky Launches Private Company to Market Healthcare Innovations

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The University of Kentucky this week unveiled a new for-profit company called Therix Medical that will work with the university to commercialize a variety of biomedical innovations made by clinicians affiliated with the school.

Therix, which UK expects to be fully operational by the end of the year, is currently seeking private funding and employees with extensive business-development experience, a UK official said this week.

The company will initially focus on diagnostic and medical device innovations, and will work with clinicians at various entities within the UK Healthcare system to conduct proof-of-concept studies, develop prototypes, and seek intellectual property protection, funding, and regulatory approval for their innovations.

Therix will then be responsible for either licensing the technology to industry or creating a startup company around it, UK said.

Under a master licensing agreement between UK and Therix the university will receive milestone payments and royalties in a manner similar to licensing deals penned through the school’s Office of Commercialization and Economic Development, Dean Harvey, executive director of the OCED, told BTW.

UK debuted the concept of Therix to its clinicians at an event held earlier this week.

"There was a broad sense we were missing an opportunity," Harvey said. "We've been pretty good at starting up companies based on ideas from UK researchers that receive federal research funding, but almost none was coming from clinicians."

Indeed, according to the Association of University Technology Managers' Annual Licensing Activity Survey, UK spun out 10 companies in 2007 (the most recent year for which data are available), tying it for sixth place among reporting institutions in that category.

"At the same time, the UK medical center is growing at a tremendous rate," Harvey said. "Our clinicians have lots of marketable ideas, but it takes a lot more than an idea to take it to market: there's prototyping, regulatory approval, reimbursement issues. We don't have all those resources on campus."

Therix is looking to build out a staff of experienced business-development experts and entrepreneurs to do that legwork. Harvey said that they will be able to tap into some resources at UK, but expects that the company will also have its own network of entrepreneurs, investors, potential development partners, and contract research organizations to perform the needed work to bring an idea to market.

Therix will also be privately funded and for-profit, so unlike the OCED, which considers commercialization prospects for all innovations that cross its desk, Therix will "pick out of this pipeline which innovations make the most sense to take forward," Harvey said. "So it's not going to advance every idea."

The UK Healthcare system comprises faculty from six UK colleges: Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, Health Sciences, Dentistry and Public Health; and its facilities include the UK Chandler Hospital, Kentucky Children’s Hospital, UK HealthCare East, Kentucky Clinic, Polk-Dalton Clinic, Kentucky Clinic South, 80 specialized clinics, 143 outreach programs, and a team of 6,000 physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and healthcare workers.

"At the UK Chandler Hospital alone there are more than 550 clinical faculty, 500 interns/residents/fellows, 425 medical students, and several hundred nurses and technicians, each potentially with an idea that would solve a clinical problem and make a difference in treating patients," John Gurley, a cardiologist at Chandler's Gill Heart Institute that is working with Harvey to establish Therix, said in a statement.

Therix is currently seeking an undisclosed amount of private funding to support operations and is seeking employees from both a local pool of potential staffers and through a national search, Harvey said.

The company's board will likely comprise UK Healthcare employees, investors, local business people, and possibly partnering companies.

"We expect Therix to be fully operational by the end of the calendar year," Harvey said. "We are already getting disclosures from some of our clinicians."

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