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The Road to Market

July 7, 2004

Mary Ann Travis
Michael DeMocker

To market, to market. An idea goes to market. Taking a concept from drawing board or test tube to commercial viability is a slow and winding process. In round three of the Wall Fund awards, Tulane's Office of Technology Transfer and Business Development received a $300,000 grant to create the Technology Innovation Gap Fund.

tulsp04_wall3The fund supports researchers' ideas that need a little push to fulfill their commercial promise. Money from the fund may be used to pay for a prototype, so that an idea can move from paper--or computer screen--to physical reality. Or the fund may support proof-of-concept studies such as testing new therapeutic compounds in an animal model.

"It's early-stage seed money to help mature the technology," says J. Cale Lennon, associate director. "Without it, there really was no money for this type of support."

Lennon and his associates evaluate the commercial potential of ideas and inventions that Tulane faculty members bring to them. They then help obtain patents and find companies to license ideas and eventually make commercial products. Intellectual property created by Tulane faculty members generates millions of dollars in licensing revenue--shared by the university and individual investigators.

Tulane earned almost $11 million in licensing revenue last year. It's a tricky business--technology development. Technical risks lurk in the development stage. Companies don't survive. Even if an idea is licensed, production of a product is a long time coming. A new drug, for example, may require eight or nine years of testing and trials before it sits on a pharmacist's shelf.

The Technology Innovation Gap Fund is designed to help investigators validate their inventions early in the concept stage. Lennon says, "An investigator can have a good idea, but it needs additional studies--good, solid proof-of-principle studies to add value to the concept."

Presently, awards up to $20,000 are available to investigators to support inventions that have been disclosed to the technology transfer office. Even that relatively small amount changes the way researchers imagine the possibilities and paves the way for new life-saving products to reach the marketplace.

The office has awarded funds to Charles Hemenway, associate professor of pediatrics-hematology and oncology in the School of Medicine, who is developing an anti-cancer drug; and to biomedical engineering associate professor Kay C Dee, assistant professors Glen Livesay and Eric Nauman and graduate student Eileen Gentleman in the School of Engineering, who are investigating a tissue-engineering implant.

Because their work is in such beginning stages, these investigators would have been hard pressed to scrape up money to do studies beyond basic research without the fund. Now they can explore their inventions' commercial appeal and attractiveness to companies. Lennon expects the fund to have a lasting effect as it encourages researchers to come forth with projects.

Researchers who might have set aside embryonic ideas because they lacked support can now take their investigations to the next level. "It's a resource to help them further along."


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