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November 15, 2004
Venture Lab to shepherd discoveries to market
BY Holly Korschun
New treatments for common and devastating illnesses such as cancer, HIV, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases could reach patients sooner, thanks to the Office of Technology Tranfer’s new Venture Lab program.
Venture Lab will identify potentially marketable university research discoveries in their early stages and help find the funding necessary for scientists to establish the “proof of principle” necessary to bring the technologies to market.
Kevin Lei, formerly assistant director of technology transfer, is now associate director, and he will direct Venture Lab, which is supported by Emory and the Georgia Research Alliance. Lei has managed the University’s patenting and licensing applications—the nuts and bolts of technology transfer—since 1997. In his new position, he will help Emory scientists bridge the often formidable gap between academia and the business world, scouting out marketable technologies matching them with venture capitalists and other investors, developing them, and delivering them to market.
“The proof of concept is not always straightforward and not necessarily what academicians are focused on,” Lei said. “Our program will help scientists look at their discoveries in a new way. Understanding what is required for a product to be successful is a different focus than basic research, which focuses on publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.”
For more than a decade, the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) has been guiding scientists and inventors through the complex patenting and licensing process, with more than 21 licensed therapeutic products currently in various stages of drug discovery, clinical development or regulatory approval.
Six of these already are in the marketplace, and nine more are in clinical trials. In addition, 12 diagnostic/device products are being developed by Emory’s licensees, and five of these already are being used or sold on the market.
For more than 20 years universities and researchers have been legally allowed to own, patent and license inventions and create startup companies to market them, even when the discoveries originate from federally funded research. Emory founded the OTT in 1993 to help scientists manage the tangle of regulations and legal processes that often keep scientific discoveries from reaching their full potential. A portion of the profits goes to the inventor, and the rest goes to the University to support future research. Universities may receive licensing fees, royalties or equity from sales of the product.
The OTT recently has been transformed and expanded under the leadership of new director Todd Sherer, growing its staff from nine to 14 and creating the Venture Lab.
“We have a new strategy at Emory in technology transfer, and Kevin is uniquely qualified to help us carry it out, with a strong combination of scientific and business skills and a foot in both worlds,” Sherer said.
Lei, who has a Georgia Tech MBA and a master’s in hematology, worked for years in a research laboratory in China and formed his own technology startup company.
“After I came to the United States, I realized I could combine my scientific background and my business expertise and end up doing something even more valuable for humanity,” Lei said.
Lei and Sherer are helping scientists add value to their discoveries by navigating the proverbial “valley of death,” where many discoveries with the potential for commercial development lose steam. In his new position, Lei will serve as a technology scout and matchmaker for the funding that can propel inventions towards commercialization. He also will encourage scientists who may work in different areas of the University to collaborate for the sake of technology development.
“Having Venture Lab under the same roof as OTT makes us unique and leverages the investment the University already is making in technology development,” Sherer said.