Arizona State University, through SkySong Innovations, continues to achieve high rankings in technology transfer metrics. The latest read on this comes from the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM). According to AUTM’s most recent survey (fiscal year 2019), ASU was fourth in patents granted, fourth in startup companies launched and third in inventions disclosed when compared with other universities without a medical school.

The AUTM report is an annual survey of the performance of technology transfer offices around the country. Skysong Innovations is the intellectual property management and technology transfer organization for ASU.

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With 129 patents awarded in FY19, ASU is No. 4 (out of 58 universities and colleges in this peer group) behind MIT, North Carolina State University and California Institute of Technology and ahead of Purdue University, Carnegie Mellon University, the Rochester Institute of Technology and Princeton University. Patents are one measure of how well an institution can identify and move new scientific ideas from the lab into the marketplace.

With 18 startup companies generated, ASU ranked No. 4 (of 58 universities and colleges), behind only MIT, Caltech and Purdue and ahead of Carnegie Mellon, Princeton and the University of Georgia. Startups are a measure of an idea entering the market through the formation of a company dedicated to developing that innovation.

A third category ASU did well in was invention disclosures. ASU had 301 invention disclosures in FY19, putting it at No. 3 (of 58 universities and colleges). ASU was behind only MIT and Purdue University in this measure and ahead of Caltech, North Carolina State and Iowa State University. An invention disclosure is an innovation or technology submitted by an ASU researcher for potential commercialization.

In addition to these measures, ASU startups raised more than $100 million in outside investments in FY19 and, to date, have raised almost $1 billion to develop technologies invented by ASU faculty and researchers. ASU was one of five universities without a medical school ranking in the top 10 for issued patents, startups launched, inventions disclosed, and licenses and options, along with MIT, Carnegie Mellon, North Carolina State and Purdue.

“These survey findings are representative of one of the most critical areas of ASU’s charter — that of advancing research and discovery of public value,” said Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. “We take great pride in moving our research from the lab to the classroom and into society with speed and scale where it has impact and helps solve some of the most pressing challenges we face as a global community.”

“ASU researchers are tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges, from sustainable resources and carbon capture to cancer detection and treatment,” added Augie Cheng, Skysong Innovations CEO and chief legal officer. “Skysong Innovations identifies those technologies with broad commercial potential and coordinates with the right partners to bring these innovations into the marketplace.”

Metabolism analysis on the run

One of the patents awarded in FY19 was for a “metabolic analyzer” developed by Erica Forzani and the late N.J. Tao. This device provides a method for weight and/or fitness management by measuring a person’s metabolic data including oxygen and carbon dioxide during exercise or at rest.

The pocket-held device is licensed to the startup Breezing. It is marketed as the first portable device that can track an individual’s metabolism and use that information to provide diet and exercise recommendations for maintaining or reaching a healthy weight.

The device analyzes a human’s exhalations and transmits that information to an integrated app on a cellphone or tablet via Bluetooth. The user can then apply that information to customize a diet or exercise program through the app that will help achieve personal weight goals.

The device works via “indirect calorimetry,” the preferred measurement method of the American Dietetic Association, World Health Organization and other institutions. Traditional indirect calorimeters are bulky, difficult to use and usually found only in doctor’s offices. Breezing replaces all that with a simple, handheld device based on cutting-edge sensor technology.

A blood test for cancer in dogs

A second patent from FY19 pertains to diagnosing cancer in dogs. The new method, developed by the Biodesign Institute’s and School of Life Sciences’ Stephen Johnston, is used for diagnosing and characterizing lymphoma utilizing patient antibodies bound to peptide microarrays in comparison to an immunosignature characteristic of a lymphoma state or a nonlymphoma state.

A single blood test capable of diagnosing cancer with high sensitivity and specificity would enhance patient care by streamlining the diagnostic process. A serological test for monitoring lymphoma could be used at multiple stages: early detection, diagnosis and monitoring of residual disease.

Spontaneous canine lymphoma and human non-Hodgkin lymphoma have nearly identical presentations and pathologies, making them ideal partner species in which to explore blood-based diagnostics. A serological test would facilitate routine monitoring during an annual wellness exam, enable faster diagnosis when lymphoma is suspected and allow monitoring of lymphoma following treatment. Design of such a test for lymphoma is dependent on the identification of an appropriate biomarker.

Startups to save lives

One of the startup companies launched in FY19 is OncoMyx Therapeutics, founded by Grant McFadden of the Biodesign Institute. OncoMyx develops cancer therapeutics based on the myxoma virus, which is a highly immuno-interactive virus that can selectively infect and kill a broad range of cancer cell types. McFadden is a pioneer in the field of oncolytic virotherapy that can successfully program a virus to infect and kill cancer while leaving normal cells unharmed.

As a virus that is nonpathogenic to humans, myxoma does not have to overcome preexisting immunity. With a large genome, myxoma is ideal for multi-arming, creating a precision medicine approach with a unique oncolytic virus that activates the cancer immunity cycle and expands the therapeutic effectiveness of immunotherapies.

McFadden and his collaborators have spent the past two decades evaluating the myxoma virus as a cancer-fighting agent in a wide variety of tumor models. The natural target of the virus is the European rabbit, in which it causes a lethal disease. Because it only grows in rabbit cells or cancer cells, it would not infect healthy human tissue. In humans, the virus is harmless, except when it encounters a cancer cell. McFadden’s research team has successfully targeted various types of cancers.

Autism diagnosis and treatment

A second startup from FY19 is Autism Diagnostics, a company founded by ASU’s James Adams, a professor in ASU’s School of Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, working with Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown of the Biodesign Institute and a professor in ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

The company is working to produce the first biomedical test for diagnosing autism. It has also developed two metabolomic tests for autism that can also assess treatment efficacy in clinical trials. Therefore, the test could diagnose children while also helping to guide personalized medical interventions.

The company received first place for best startup opportunity in a universitywide competition at ASU in November 2019.