Commercialization pathways mapped out at technology development symposium

By Dwayne Cox / Feb. 19-28, 2011

Dr. Dennis Stone, vice president for technology development at UT Southwestern, offers earthy perspective to researchers intent on commercializing the next biotechnology breakthrough.

“Will the dogs eat the dog food?” was the question Dr. Stone posed to attendees of the Office of Technology Development’s recent “Found in Translation: Pathways to Commercialization” symposium.

Drs. Dennis Stone (left), Phillip Purdy and Philip Thomas participate in the panel discussion portion of the Winter 2011 Entrepreneurship Symposium, held recently on the North Campus. The event was conducted to make faculty and students aware of the process and opportunities to commercialize biomedical innovations derived through

UT Southwestern research.

Unlike in years past, biotechnology investors want more than promising grandiose ideas, said Dr. Stone. Investors demand evidence of massive market potential and staying power before they’ll fund commercialization of a new pharmaceutical, medical device or software.

“We cannot depend on venture capital for financing,” Dr. Stone said. “Wall Street has become increasingly conservative. Thus, we must take the initiative to advance our own technologies to the point of commercialization.”

For an entrepreneurial scientist and
UT Southwestern, Dr. Stone noted, that can be an arduous and expensive undertaking. The cost of simply taking an innovation through the patent process can exceed $60,000.

“One of our jobs is to help our scientists understand the market potential of an invention,” explained Dr. Claire Aldridge, director of commercialization relations. “Just because an innovation is novel and patentable does not mean that it is commercially profitable. With limited resources, we must support projects with massive market potential.”

Assessing that potential, and — where justified — taking the idea to an industrial partner for further development and commercialization are the specialty of the office, Dr. Aldridge said.

“We‘re ready to put our strength and expertise behind ideas that are truly transformative,” she said.

Dr. Stone said, “These days it’s all about partnering. Partnering is essential to close the development gap in financing that’s needed to get a concept or company ready for venture or public investment. Those industrial partners require advanced technologies.”

Over the past decade, the Office of Technology Development has helped generate more than $100 million in revenue for the medical center and more than 500 patents with
UT Southwestern researchers named as inventors.

Two case studies were highlighted at the symposium: the development by Dr. Phillip Purdy, professor of radiology and neurological surgery, of a new kind of tiny platinum coil used to treat brain aneurysms; and Reata Pharmaceuticals — which includes Dr. Jef De Brabander, professor of biochemistry, and Dr. Philip Thomas, professor of physiology, among its founders.

Additionally, Dr. Stone showcased BioCenter at Southwestern Medical District, a 13.5-acre biotech park that opened in April to provide state-of-the-art lab space and resources for new ventures.

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Dr. Stone holds the NCH Corporation Chair in Molecular Transport.