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Yale spins off five biotech firms

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1998 - Summer


Until a decade ago, Yale's participation in technology transfer, the movement of basic science advances into the commercial marketplace, was negligible. That has changed dramatically (Yale Medicine, Fall 1997), and the change delights budget makers, among others. Two years ago, Yale's annual income from royalties and licenses for University-developed projects had grown to $3 million. Yale expects those earnings to soar phenomenally, reaching $38 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30 and placing it among a handful of the universities leading in annual royalty and licensing income. More than three-quarters of the income has come from royalties from the AIDS medication Zerit, developed at Yale. A Yale-developed Lyme disease vaccine is expected to boost royalty income further in the coming years.

There's more good news. The Office of Cooperative Research has announced the formation of five new biotechnology companies based on spin-off technologies from School of Medicine research. Each of the new ventures plans to establish research and development facilities in the New Haven area, creating an anticipated 70 or more new jobs in their first year of operations.

“Yale is taking a more active role in forming new ventures in an effort to make sure the New Haven area reaps economic benefits from the University's research.” says Gregory E. Gardiner, Ph.D., director of the Office of Cooperative Research. “Aside from creating new jobs, the five companies are developing drugs and diagnostic techniques that have the potential to significantly benefit human health throughout the world.”

The five new companies formed in partnership with Yale are:

Molecular Staging Inc., which is generating DNA amplification techniques useful for detecting, characterizing and assessing the severity, or stage, of disease. MSI will focus on developing new and more powerful technologies for diagnosing cancer and infectious diseases.

polyGenomics Inc., which is developing methods for analyzing population genetics to discover new genes using many of the same techniques employed by Molecular Staging. This could help researchers find the causes of complex diseases that involve defects in a number of genes, including psychiatric disorders such as panic disorders and schizophrenia and hypertension-associated kidney failure.

Transmolecular Sciences Inc., which is relocating to New Haven from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The company is studying neurotransmitters involved in chronic pain as targets for developing powerful non-narcotic analgesic agents. The firm is also focusing on the diagnosis, imaging and treatment of malignant brain tumors.

L2 Diagnostics, which was established with School of Medicine investment funds as a spin-off from its own Lyme/Lupus Diagnostics Laboratory. The new diagnostic methods developed by the laboratory will help distinguish patients infected with Lyme disease from those who have been vaccinated. In May, an FDA advisory panel recommended approval of a Yale-developed vaccine.

Cellular Genomics, which will explore ways in which changing patterns of gene expression affect how a cell looks and behaves. By focusing in on cells of the immune system, the company hopes to find new ways to treat autoimmune diseases such as juvenile-onset diabetes and multiple sclerosis, and to prevent transplant rejection.

Formation of the new companies exceeds the University's goals of spinning off three to four biotech companies each year, according to Jon Soderstrom, Ph.D., associate director of the Office of Cooperative Research.

According to results of a poll released in April, biomedical research and biotechnology industry have the strong support of the vast majority of Connecticut residents. Most would even be willing to pay a surcharge on various health services or increased taxes if the money went to biomedical research. The survey was commissioned by the national biomedical research-advocacy organization Research! America and released by Connecticut United for Research Excellence, Inc. (CURE), coalition supporting biomedical research and education. Among its findings, the poll indicated that 80 percent of the respondents said they are more likely to think a hospital is “good” if they know it is engaged in research and training of medical students and residents.