Speeding discoveries from bench to bedside
Biomedical research should ultimately benefit patients. That’s the driving force behind the work being done by LauraLee Hughes and her staff in the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s Office of Technology Translation (OTT).
The office was created to facilitate the translation of research from bench to bedside. It handles everything from invention disclosures and patent strategies to grant and contract strategies for faculty and start-up companies, target product profiles, and even preclinical and clinical development plans.
“Most researchers – myself included – don’t even know the language of tech transfer, much less how the process works, so having a resource that is experienced in this arena, and able to shepherd the process for us is absolutely critical to translating our research advances to the clinic and marketplace,” said Cheryl Walker, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) in Houston. “After all, that is why scientists do what they do.”
The Office of Technology Translation works with TAMHSC faculty and staff to actively identify new intellectual property and facilitate the development and commercialization of discoveries arising from their research. The office coordinates with the Texas A&M System’s Technology Commercialization (TTC) office for traditional academic technology transfer activities, such as patent protection and licensing, yet provides dedicated resources that go beyond those available through TTC to promote an entrepreneurial culture and address the unique needs of biomedical researchers within a health-related institution.
“We offer the specialized expertise necessary to advance the novel technologies coming from a rapidly emerging, research-intensive, innovation-driven institution such as A&M Health Science Center,” Hughes said. “This enables us to maximize the potential for translational research, sponsored research with industry, and ultimately commercialization.”
The Office of Technology Translation also helps researchers submit proposals to state and federal programs that fund translational research, such as the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), the Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), among others.
Hughes’ background perfectly aligns with her current role. She holds bachelor’s degrees in both biochemistry and genetics and a master’s degree in biotechnology – all from Texas A&M University. She previously worked for The Texas A&M System’s Technology Commercialization Office and played a key role in helping The Texas A&M System land a $285.6 million contract to create the Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM).
Hughes joined the health science center in 2013 when she was drawn by the opportunity to further the institution’s goal of defining new frontiers in biomedical science.
“LauraLee is one of the smartest, most energetic and effective young professionals with whom I have ever worked,” Giroir said.
Since inception of the OTT, Hughes has focused on developing resources to support faculty efforts related to translational research and intellectual property, and meeting with faculty members to make them aware of the role her office plays in helping advance their discoveries from bench to bedside. She also recently was appointed as an instructor at the IBT, which will enable her to have a more direct role in mentoring students and providing educational opportunities to drive innovation and commercialization.
“Many faculty members may not even realize they have something with commercial potential,” Hughes said. “We want faculty members to be freed to create and innovate, and make clear pathways that are accessible to them without distracting them from their primary emphasis on research and teaching.”
For technologies that do have commercial potential, the Office of Technology Translation works with the faculty members and TTC to make sure their intellectual property (IP) is protected. For example, Hughes is currently working with Walker to protect the intellectual property for a tumor suppressor gene that can be targeted to treat endometrial cancer — a discovery for which a provisional patent application was recently filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Once intellectual property is protected, Hughes and her staff can pursue opportunities to commercialize the discovery either by licensing it to an outside company or starting a new company. The office has a licensee for an antibody Walker has developed that could be used as a research and diagnostic tool. Additionally, the team is helping Carolyn Cannon, M.D., Ph.D., in the College of Medicine, on plans to protect IP and commercialize a novel treatment for childhood respiratory diseases that she has developed.
For faculty members who already have start-up companies, the Office of Technology Translation can serve as a resource for technical and business-related expertise that will help guide faculty members through the process and increase the commercial potential of their technologies.
As the OTT continues to expand, Hughes also is playing an important role in helping the health science center recruit new faculty members.
“Many new faculty members we are trying to recruit are highly entrepreneurial,” Hughes said. “They either have aspirations to start a company or already have a company that they want to relocate to Texas. Being able to attract entrepreneurial scientists enables the health science center to fulfill its mission of improving human health and quality of life across the state, around the nation, and throughout the world.”