U takes new approach to funding medical technology

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The University is taking a fresh approach in licensing a new invention that one day might treat macular degeneration.

The new technology, created by University professors Art Erdman and Timothy Olsen, and Paul Loftness, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, will be licensed out to company Macular Regeneration.

The University previously only granted licenses to a company in exchange for future cash royalty payments, but now the University wants to have more say in the company’s management, said University President Bob Bruininks.

“The reason the University is retaining an interest is to accelerate the process of discovery and application and to protect our long-term financial interests,” he said.

“In previous decades, we haven’t protected our own investment in research and development to the extent that we should, and if we do a better job of that, some resources can come back to the University to support our research and educational programs.”

According to the Board of Regents, the University initially will assume control in the start-up, lending it $50,000 for startup and initial research.

In return, the University will get 57 percent of shares of the company’s common stock, royalty payments on 1.75 percent on sales and a seat on the company’s board of directors.

Macular Regeneration will be headed by Tom Borillo, a former consultant with the University’s Office of Business Development and will work together with that office.

Jessica Zeaske, associate director in the Office of Business Development, said Borillo is a good match for the company.

“Tom Borillo has an excellent reputation and experience in developing medical devices from their earliest stages,” she said.

Art Erdman, professor in mechanical engineering and one of the inventors, said the new business plan approved by the Board of Regents this month brought the new technology into the spotlight too early.

“We’re excited about the progress thus far but we’re still years away from this and so we don’t want to get people prematurely really excited,” he said.

Erdman has high hopes for the new technology but said there has to be much more research done before it can become public.

“I’m excited that the University has decided to create this model for funding and the creation of a start-up company,” he said. “That’s going to accelerate the rate of progress on this research.”

According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, more than 10 million Americans suffer from macular degeneration, a disease of the eye that is the leading cause of blindness in people older than 55.

Information about the new technology has not been released because the University is seeking a patent, but Erdman said the treatment is a combination of the new technology and surgical procedure.

According to the University patents and technology marketing Web site, 251 new inventions and technologies were reported to the University’s technology transfer office in fiscal 2005, with 48 U.S. patents issued.

The gross revenue from licensing agreements for the year was $47.3 million.

“There’s a lot of technology that’s just sort of waiting, hoping that someone will discover it,” Erdman said.

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