New treatments for common and devastating illnesses such as cancer, HIV, Alzheimer's, and cardiovascular diseases could reach patients sooner thanks to the new Venture Lab program in Emory University's Office of Technology Transfer. 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 Emory's assistant director of technology transfer, is now associate director and new director of the Venture Lab, which is supported by Emory University and by the Georgia Research Alliance. Mr. Lei has managed Emory's patenting and licensing applications, which are 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 technologies that are marketable, matching them with venture capitalists and other investors, developing them, and bringing them to market.
"The proof of concept is not always straightforward and not necessarily what academicians are focused on," Mr. Lei says. "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."
Emory's Office of Technology Transfer has been guiding scientists and inventors through the complex patenting and licensing process for their discoveries for more than a decade, 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 9 more are in clinical trials. In addition, 12 diagnostic/device products are being developed by Emory's licensees and 5 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 "start-up" companies to market them, even when the discoveries originate from federally funded research. Since 1993 the Emory OTT has helped scientists manage the complex 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.
Emory's Technology Transfer Office recently has been transformed and expanded under the leadership of Dr. Todd Sherer, its new director -- growing its staff from 9 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," said Dr. Sherer.
Mr. Lei received a master's degree in hematology and was an academic research scientist, then founder and president of a tissue engineering company in China before coming to the United States. He became research and development manager for Xytex Corporation in Augusta in 1992, received his MBA from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1997, then joined Emory's Office of Technology Transfer.
"After I came to the United States I realized that I could combine my scientific background and my business expertise and end up doing something even more valuable for humanity," Mr. Lei says.
Mr. Lei and Dr. Sherer are helping scientists add value to their discoveries and navigate the proverbial "valley of death" where many discoveries with the potential for commercial development lose steam.