University of Arizona employees disclosed 284 inventions in fiscal year 2019 – more than any other year in the university’s history. The record-setting number of UA inventions is included in the annual numbers just released by Tech Launch Arizona, or TLA, the UA office that commercializes inventions stemming from research.
“I am proud that Tech Launch Arizona is a vital part of our vision for the University of Arizona, and for our potential as a world leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins. “As a public, land-grant university, the UA is uniquely well-positioned to address grand challenges faced by people all over the world, and TLA’s success this year demonstrates that our solution-oriented culture and strategic investments are producing results.”
Along with disclosed inventions, TLA filed 341 patents, executed 96 licenses and options for UA technologies, launched 11 startups and received a record 56 issued patents. According to Doug Hockstad, TLA assistant vice president, these licenses and startups represent the ultimate bridge to creating real-world impact from the research and innovative work of people throughout the UA community.
“By protecting these inventions and then licensing to existing companies and startups,” he said, “we create the pathways that ultimately put these inventions into the hands of the public, where they can create jobs and improve lives. The key to growth is continuing to increase engagement of our faculty, researchers and students in this effort.”
Such inventions come from practically every sector of the UA. Most often, they arise out of research and development efforts in certain colleges, such as the College of Medicine – Tucson, the College of Medicine – Phoenix, the College of Science, the College of Engineering, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the James C. Waynt College of Optical Sciences. But they can also come from the work of any employee who develops a solution that has a potentially broad application, such as a useful piece of software.
For example, one company is integrating a prism system invented in the Wyant College of Optical Sciences into a product that helps low-vision individuals to see. Another licensed analytics software for precision medicine developed in the College of Medicine – Tucson. Yet another is using an antimicrobial-antiviral therapy for shrimp invented in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for food pathogen testing.
Pathways for Startups
Aside from licensing inventions to existing companies, TLA also works with inventors to launch new companies to bring these innovations to the marketplace. The startup companies launched this year include:
• Xoralgo Inc., offering an error correction method that improves database failure rate, increases speed and storage rate over the current RAID 6 technology, invented by Marek Rychlik and then-graduate student Mohammad Moussa in the College of Science.
• Fibronox, working to treat fibrotic disorders with Nox4 small moledular inhibitors, invented by Louise Hecker, College of Medicine – Tucson and BIO5 Institute, Vijay Gokhale, BIO5 Institute, and then-postdoctoral student Reena Chawla.
• EARDG Photonics Inc., developer of enhanced augmented reality display glasses created by Nasser Peyghambarian, Robert Norwood, Savas Tay, Pierre-Alexandre Blanche and Arkady Bablumyan of the Wyant College of Optical Sciences.
• DesertDx, developing an approach to directly identify cancer-specific methylation regions within the human genome, invented by Bernard Futscher and Lukas Vrba of the College of Pharmacy, the BIO5 Institute and the UA Cancer Center.
• iCrx Inc., developing a holographic binocular adaptive see-through phoropter invented in the Wyant College of Optical Sciences and the College of Medicine – Phoenix by Peyghambarian, James Schwiegerling, Gholam Peyman and Nickolaos Savidis.
• Procyon Technologies, whose inventor, Klearchos Papas of the College of Medicine – Phoenix, developed an artificial pancreas cell encapsulation device.
• Scintillation Nanotechnologies, bringing to market novel nanoparticles for the detection of radioisotope activity in cellular research, invented by Craig Aspinwall and Colleen Janszak of the College of Science, the College of Medicine – Tucson, the BIO5 Institute and the UA Cancer Center.
• Extreme Cer-Nano, developing a high-temperature graphene-based ceramic material for extreme environments, invented by associate professor Erica Corral, former postdoctoral researchers William Pinc and Luke Walker, and then-student Victoria Marotto of the College of Engineering. Co-inventors include Zachary Wing of Advanced Ceramics Manufacturing LLC, and Mohammad Rafiee and Nikhil Koratkar of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
• Intelico Therapeutics, which licensed drug target discovery and precision therapeutics based upon probabilistic models of disease, invented by Rui Chang of the College of Medicine – Tucson and Eric Schadt of the Icahn School of Medicine.
Since its inception in fiscal year 2013, TLA has helped form more than 80 startups, averaging nearly 14 startups every year.
To help ensure that these budding businesses have the leadership necessary for success, TLA has multiple support programs to match experienced technology entrepreneurs and C-suite leaders with emerging companies. Through its Commercialization Network and Commercialization Parter programs, the office has helped 123 network members connect to faculty and startup teams as advisers, and placed six individuals in leadership positions. TLA expects to do much more going forward, according to Joann MacMaster, senior director of venture development.
“Right now, we’re talking with 20 other universities to establish an ‘Executive-on-Roster,’ or XOR, network that will help us all work together more effectively to identify and engage the right individuals for each unique opportunity,” MacMaster said.
The office also runs a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, or “I-Corps,” site program, which provides university-related entrepreneurial teams looking to bring innovative technologies to market with grants of up to $3,000, with the funds being earmarked for customer discovery. Since the inception of the TLA I-Corps program three years ago, 111 teams have gone through the program and 31 have launched startups and licensed UA intellectual property. Of the 11 startups listed above that TLA helped create this year, six went through the I-Corps program.
Walls at TLA’s offices bear signs to remind every employee and visitor of the office’s purpose: “Bringing together the university community and local and regional ecosystems, we’re making a better world by moving inventions stemming from UA research and technological innovation into the marketplace where they can create lasting social and economic impact.”
“We’re excited to engage as many people as we can in that vision,” Hockstad said.