November 2, 1998
Volume 51, No. 10
Faculty receive funds to help commercialize research
Four School of Medicine faculty recently received a boost in their entrepreneurial ambitions when they won awards from the Faculty Research Commercialization Program (FRCP), a six-year-old effort that helps faculty members develop commercial products based on their university research.
The FRCP is funded by the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) and operated by the Advanced Technology Development Center, a small-business incubator at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Emory radiation oncologists Ian Crocker and Tim Fox, neurologist Alan Levey and interventional cardiologist Neal Scott won the one-year awards ranging from $30,000 to $100,000. Faculty members at the six GRA member universities are eligible to compete each year for the FRCP awards, which average $350,000 annually. Successful candidates must partner with an advisor from the local business community.
Transferring technology from a university researcher's laboratory or clinic to the marketplace can sometimes speed up the process of turning ideas and medical inventions into improved patient care. At the same time, commercializing research can increase the funding available for additional investigations. The FRCP program helps solve the problems faculty often encounter in attracting enough financial support to prove the commercial worthiness of their discoveries.
Winning proposals are selected because they are likely to be commercially successful, because they fit within Georgia's technology base and because their project leaders have high qualifications. The grants may include support for working toward a "proof of concept" prototype, a commercialization plan or a patent, copyright or licensing agreement.
Preventing restenosis during angioplasty
Crocker and Fox have a new software product called iPlan, designed to help physicians prevent blood vessels from reclosing following angioplasty. Approximately 450,000 angioplasties are performed annually in the United States to unblock arteries and help prevent heart attacks, but 30 to 40 percent of these patients experience restenosis, or a re-narrowing of the arteries.
Crocker already has been a successful medical entrepreneur as part of a team of Emory researchers who developed the Beta-Cath system that delivers radiation to certain blood vessel areas during angioplasty. This intracoronary radiation therapy (ICRT) system was successfully tested in the Beta Energy Restenosis Trial (BERT), the first FDA-approved vascular radiotherapy trial. Crocker and Emory cardiologists Spencer King and Keith Robinson licensed the Beta-Cath system to Novoste Corp., a Norcross-based biotechnology company that is continuing to conduct clinical trials and plans to launch the new system soon as a commercial product.
The iPlan system is designed to help physicians using any ICRT system plan effective therapy for each patient. "The system enables radiation treatment planning to be done real-time in the cardiac catheterization laboratory," said Fox, "providing the guidance needed to accurately and safely prescribe the proper amount of radiation and to document the amount delivered."
Crocker and Fox have developed an iPlan prototype and have tested it with patient data from the BERT trial. A variety of ICRT systems are under development nationwide, and as the market for the therapy continues to develop, the two researchers predict the procedure will be performed in every large hospital in the country and that iPlan could potentially form the basis of a multi-million-dollar company.
Neal Scott, along with Georgia Tech faculty member Janet Hampikian, recently formed a new Emory startup company called Pegasus Catheter Systems that will manufacture catheters for use by interventional cardiologists and interventional radiologists. One of the company's first catheters, and the one covered under the FRCP grant, will be used for ICRT during angioplasty.
The new catheter, said Scott, will be easier to use, more accurate and less expensive than a variety of other radiation-delivering catheter systems currently under development. Scott's catheter also will allow physicians to treat large and small arteries. The catheter will use either beta or gamma radiation delivered via a radioactive isotope.
Diagnosing early Alzheimer's disease
Emory neurologists Allan Levey, Tim Greenamyre, Jim Lah and Judy Benett-Desmolik are using clues they have found in the physiology of Alzheimer's disease patients to develop a diagnostic blood test for the disorder.
The team has discovered that cells with mutations in genes that cause a rare, inherited, early-onset form of disease in people younger than 60 can be measured and identified using a new technology called microphysiometry. More importantly, the same physiological changes are present in blood cells from patients with the much more common sporadic forms of the disease-cases not due to a single genetic cause. The team has some evidence that these physiological changes may even precede the onset of symptoms.
Although there is not yet any real cure for Alzheimer's, the ability to identify the disease at an early stage might help considerably in screening potential drugs to treat it, Levey pointed out.
Three to 4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, including 50,000 in the Atlanta area. Individuals who reach the age of 85 have a one in two chance of developing the disease. The Emory group is collaborating with two Georgia Tech faculty, Terry Blum, director of the Dupree School of Entrepreneurial Management, and Mike Healey, both of whom have research interests in commercializing health care technology.