UNeMed highlights success in 2016 Shareholder Meeting

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Jeffrey Gold

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D., shares a laugh with the crowd during a lighter moment at UNeMed’s Shareholder Meeting on Aug. 18. After announcing to the gathering that UNMC students would finally be allowed to purchase discounted tickets this year for Nebraska Cornhuskers football games, Dr. Gold quipped: “I want you to note, that’s the first applause of the evening.”
Photos: Charles Litton/UNeMed

by Charles Litton, UNeMed

OMAHA, Neb. (Aug. 18, 2016)—UNeMed Corporation, the technology transfer and commercialization office for the University of Nebraska Medical Center, concluded another successful fiscal year with its annual shareholder meeting at TD Ameritrade Park’s Skybox Lounge.

The meeting brought together key UNMC leadership and researchers who mixed and mingled while learning about UNeMed’s efforts over the previous year and future initiatives.

During a brief set of remarks, Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D., touched on UNMC’s record-breaking strides in research funding. UNMC’s annual research goal had long-been $100 million—A number eclipsed last year, by more than $15 million.

“That was really a dramatic achievement,” he said, “but what is even more dramatic is…the percentage growth that we had was sixth-highest among academic medical centers in the United States.”

UNMC’s high-water mark for research funding could translate into a greater array of discoveries and innovations, UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon, Ph.D., said.

Michael Dixon

UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon during his remarks at UNeMed’s annual Shareholder Meeting on Aug. 18.

A similar spike in research funding occurred in 2012. That same year, UNMC researchers reported a record 106 new inventions. The surge has largely been attributed to the 2009 federal stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Over the course of five years, the stimulus pumped more than $15 billion nationally into scientific facilities, research and instrumentation.

The more recent surge in research funding last year creates plenty of room for optimism, Dr. Dixon said.

“The reason that’s exciting is because more inventions equal more opportunities for products, more opportunities for licenses, more partnerships,” Dr. Dixon said.

UNeMed, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, reported a record 153 opportunities created in 2016, a 59 percent increase over the previous year. Those opportunities led to 20 licensing agreements that could further develop UNMC technologies.

“We’re asking companies to spend hundreds of millions, if not a billion dollars, on a single technology,” Dr. Dixon said, “so it takes time to develop those into products.”

There are 36 products based on UNMC innovations currently on the market today. Another 46 are in various stages of development.

Developing UNMC innovations was among four stated initiatives in the coming year, a task helped by recent growth in Nebraska’s biotechnology and startup sectors. Now, more than ever, Nebraska has more funding opportunities, more venture capital groups and more small business programs, Dr. Dixon said.

Recently, UNeMed has helped secure more than $2 million in additional funding for UNMC innovations through the University’s proof-of-concept grant program. Funded by the Nebraska Research Initiative, those grants have helped build three startup companies; attracted additional grant funding through other federal programs; and led to several industrial partnerships, Dr. Dixon said.

Tyler Martin

Dr. Martin

Nebraska’s ascendance in those areas led UNMC alumnus and UNeMed board member Tyler Martin, M.D., to return to his home state after a successful biomedical career in California.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for us to do something that’s good for us, good for the state of Nebraska, good for life sciences globally,” Dr. Martin said during brief remarks to the gathering.

UNeMed’s remaining initiatives include continued focus on educational measures, such as the popular Tech Transfer Boot Camp and the entrepreneurship certificate program; a more robust internal communications program geared toward helping departmental leaders see the technology transfer process in real time; and continued focus in supporting and nurturing the startup and entrepreneurial communities through involvement with programs like StraightShot.

“I can’t tell you how I’m reminded every single day of how great an organization this is,” Dr. Gold said, “and how much future potential that we have. We are already phenomenal, but the best yet still lies ahead.”

From left: Dmitry oleynikov, Jennfier Larsen, unidentified.

UNMC surgeon Dmitry Oleynikov (left) chats with Vice Chancellor for Research Jennfier Larsen, and unidentified guest during UNeMed’s Aug. 18 Shareholder Meeting.
Photos: Charles Litton/UNeMed

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UNeMed signs deal on device for air leaks in chest tubes

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OMAHA, Neb. (Aug. 22, 2016)— UNeMed Corporation entered into a formal licensing agreement with Getinge Group for the use of a University of Nebraska Medical Center technology that will help health care providers detect pleural air leaks in patients with chest tubes, officials announced today.

“We at Getinge Group are excited to partner with UNeMed to further develop their innovative air leak technology. The technology is perfect fit with our market leading chest drainage products and our mission to improve patient outcomes,” said Jens Viebke, President of the Acute Care Therapies division of Getinge Group.

The device, invented by chief resident of UNMC’s surgery department, Dimitrios Miserlis, M.D., is a collection of sensors that fits into existing chest tube drainage systems. The Acute Care Therapies division of Getinge Group specializes in instruments and implants for cardiovascular surgery, anesthesia equipment and ventilators, as well as advanced products for the minimally invasive treatment of cardiovascular diseases, and will look to further develop the UNMC invention for use in its existing line of Atrium chest drainage products.

When a patient suffers serious injury to the chest, a tube is used to remove fluid that often builds up in the pleural space—the area between the lungs and the surrounding protective membrane or pleura.

Air will often leak from the lungs into the pleural space, a common and expected complication with chest trauma and drainage tubes. Leaks usually lead to increases in recovery times, hospital stays and costs because detecting them is an uncertain and subjective process.

Frustrated with the process, Dr. Miserlis worked with his friend, Kim Cluff, who was at the time an engineering graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dr. Cluff is now an assistant professor at Wichita State University.

They came up with Pleuraleak, a unique system that effectively determines if a patient has an air leak, quantifies the magnitude and changes of the leak, and monitors lung healing.

 

About Getinge Group:

Getinge Group is a leading global provider of innovative solutions for operating rooms, intensive-care units, hospital wards, sterilization departments, elderly care and for life science companies and institutions. With a genuine passion for life we build quality and safety into every system. Our unique value proposition mirrors the continuum of care, enhancing efficiency throughout the clinical pathway. Based on our first-hand experience and close partnerships, we are able to exceed expectations from customers – improving the every-day life for people, today and tomorrow.

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UNMC brings in record $115.1 million in research funding

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by Tom O’Connor, UNMC

Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center brought in a record total of $115.1 million during the 2015-16 academic year.

The $115.1 million total marked the first time UNMC has surpassed $100 million in research grants and contracts without including funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), a federal stimulus package enacted to respond to the Great Recession.

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Dr. Larsen

In fact, the 2015-16 total even surpassed the highest total funding received during the ARRA funding period, which was $115 million, said Jennifer Larsen, M.D., vice chancellor for research.

Dr. Larsen said many factors contributed to the increase:

  • Recruitment of new faculty, which resulted in new awards by early career scientists;
  • An increased effort to diversify UNMC’s funding through greater recruitment to clinical trials;
  • Building new collaborative research partnerships;
  • Strong contributions from our community to build outstanding facilities that provide places for research to be conducted and attract nationally recognized researchers; and
  • Working closely with the National Strategic Research Institute to attract more Department of Defense research funding.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., joined Dr. Larsen in praising the outstanding work of the researchers whose dedication, excellence and effort made the funding milestone possible.

“That is what distinguishes academic medicine, in the United States and around the world, that we not only provide great quality care and educate the next generation, but we’re figuring out what causes diseases, how to prevent them, how to detect disease in the early stages, and how to turn our research into effective clinical practice,” Dr. Gold said. “We are so grateful for all of the hard work and dedication that makes this possible.”

The 2015-16 total represents an increase of 23 percent from the previous fiscal year, which was again the highest one-year change outside of ARRA funding years. ARRA funding expired in 2015.

Dr. Larsen said all categories of awards increased:

  • Federal awards by 20 percent;
  • Commercial sources by 24 percent;
  • State sources by 36 percent; and
  • Other sources — which includes foundations, gifts and subcontracts from federal awards received by other institutions — by 31 percent.

As in previous years, the majority of the funding – 64 percent – came from federal funding sources, predominantly the National Institutes of Health.

Both Dr. Gold and Dr. Larsen see the new record as a jumping-off point for UNMC’s next research goal – $200 million.

We are Nebraska Medicine and UNMC. Our mission is to lead the world in transforming lives to create a healthy future for all individuals and communities through premier educational programs, innovative research and extraordinary patient care.

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Not just students benefit from Tech Transfer Boot Camp

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UNeMed 2016 Boot Camp completion certificates

by Charlie Litton, UNeMed | Aug. 1, 2016

It turns out the Tech Transfer Boot Camp did more than we thought it would. Don’t be alarmed if this sounds like shameless self-promotion.

It is.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that success is so rare we feel obliged to spike the ball and boogie around for a quick touchdown dance. (We’re looking into an office gong for that sort of thing, but that’s an entirely different story.) This humble-brag is more about sharing. It’s exciting to find a new tool, and build a program that makes research more fruitful.

Yes, fruitful.

Our tech transfer camp is an extensive—if not intense—dive into the entire commercialization process. Often, what gets lost in the public perception of that process is the core goal: moving scientific discoveries forward. The fanciful misconception involves a blockbuster licensing deal with a major pharmaceutical firm that will reap the university a windfall greater than the GDP of the Marshall Islands.

The more pedestrian truth of commercialization almost always involves some form of sponsored research. Usually an industrial partner or investor picks up the tab for additional research that proves (or disproves) a new biomedical widget can actually work.

We might call these arrangements a dozen different things, and they might take different shapes—including startup companies and licensing agreements—but they all amount to the same thing: developing scientific discoveries into products that improve healthcare.

Without that industrial and commercial support, it’s exceedingly difficult for a new discovery or development to go much further. If the goal of biomedical research is to improve lives, then it needs to move forward to survive. And survival is entirely dependent on continual financial support—no small feat in a world of diminishing federal research spending and shrinking budgets.

To bear fruit, a technology needs help, and those interested in ushering technologies through the commercialization process need some help too. Helping people navigate that process was our goal, and we took it seriously.

For the final session of the Tech Transfer Boot Camp, the campers—all of them holding doctorates or well on their way to one—were quizzed on all they should have learned from the experience. To be fair, the quizmasters were more like interrogators. There were six of them, all members of our licensing staff or upper management with more than 50 years of combined experience. All hold doctorates themselves, apart from the two patent attorneys with doctorate-level law degrees.

The grilling went on for over an hour, and at the end of it, they received their hard-won tech transfer certificates.

One Boot Camp alumnus told us their new-found command of the field just blew away an out-of-state tech transfer office during a job interview. A job was offered on the spot.

That’s great news for our egos, and it helps us feel good about ourselves. But not everyone who joins us at Boot Camp plans a career in tech transfer.

So that’s the bigger part of what we want the future incarnation of Boot Camp to do: Guide scientists and researchers toward a place where they can be better stewards of their own inventions and discoveries.

Help them understand the process on a level that informs their research and ideas in ways that lead to even greater discoveries and better inventions.

Help develop workable solutions to real problems, and maybe make life a little better for everyone.

So, yeah. Fruitful.

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GAO hits (and misses) with IP recommendations

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USpatents2_300x300In a pair of reports prepared for the House Judiciary committee, the Government Accountability Office looked for solutions to a few problems with U.S. intellectual property law. The end result was a mixed bag of proposals that varied between the elegant and the bizarre.

Both reports address growing concerns among inventors, investors and businesses about resolving disputes over patent infringement of validity. More patents are issued every year and, in the opinion of the GAO, those patents are of poorer quality. The GAO presents a trend that it says will lead to more patent disputes.

In the GAO’s 16-479 report—”Intellectual Property: Patent Office should strengthen search capabilities and better monitor examiner’s work”—those concerns are addressed practically. By recommending more engaged management of examiner’s searches and improved access to electronic databases, the GAO’s recommendations will improve how patents are examined.

For example, when examiners search for prior art they largely rely on databases of existing patents and published patent applications. The GAO recommends expanding examiner access to non-patent literature such as academic articles, trade publications and other technical papers. Expanding the pool of prior art will put new burdens on inventors, but it will also make patent examination more rigorous, which will address the stated concerns.

On the other hand, the GAO stands on shaky ground with its other report, 16-490—”Intellectual Property: Patent Office should define quality, reassess incentives, and improve quality”—where it recommends that the USPTO come up with a consistent definition of patent quality, and build processes to ensure that any issued patent meets that level of quality. The problem with that is patent quality differs enormously between sectors.

Biotechnology investors want broad and robust patents to protect huge investments in new drugs and treatments. Computer science companies want narrow patents to avoid risk of lawsuits from non-practicing entities. The GAO is critical of the USPTO’s definition of patent quality, which largely re-states U.S. Patent Law. GAO criticizes it as inconsistent and difficult to articulate.

To address inconsistency and lack of clarity, the GAO recommends that applicants submit a required glossary of definitions and a chart explaining exactly what the inventor claims. A definition and claim chart, however, can still be written ambiguously. Patent claims are supposed to put a finger on the exact nature of the invention in “this, not that” language. If a claim fails to do that, a glossary and claim chart will only provide a new venue to confuse the issue.

Together, the GAO’s intellectual property reports show how to make useful calls for reform. The GAO identifies tools examiners need to do their jobs better. There are concrete recommendations informed by interviews with patent examiners that will make real progress towards addressing the issue of uncertainty around patent infringement and validity. Better patent searches will produce better examinations and better patents.

The recommendation to define quality, however, is predicated on a standard that it never articulates. The GAO identifies shortcomings in the USPTO’s assessment of patent quality, but never creates a better standard.  Instead, the GAO suggests the way to make patents clearer is to make them longer.

The problems identified by the GAO are very real, but the best solutions will help the USPTO do better in an already difficult job; and not create a new set of standards to further complicate how this nation protects intellectual property.

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UNMC researcher secures $2.25 million grant to fight antibiotic resistance

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OMAHA, Neb. (July 11, 2016)—A researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center recently secured a coveted R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to find a workable solution to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Sam Sanderson, Ph.D., a Research Associate Professor in UNMC’s Pharmaceutical Sciences department, will use the awarded $2.25 million over five years to further study, and possibly improve, a technology he’s already patented. The singular goal is to develop it into a commercially useful and effective weapon against bacteria such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus—better known as MRSA.

UNMC researcher Sam Sanderson, Ph.D., checks the results of a recent quality control test.

UNMC researcher Sam Sanderson, Ph.D., checks the results of a recent quality control test.

MRSA is a hardy and potentially deadly strain of bacteria that is notoriously difficult to treat. About 11,285 people die every year as result of MRSA or MRSA-related infections, according to a 2011 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Sanderson’s research will be based on his previous work with EP67, a small protein, or peptide, he and his collaborators created. The synthetic peptide works by stimulating and enhancing a more robust natural immune response to normal and resistant infections, and potentially other ailments such as cancer.

For the NIH study, Dr. Sanderson and his team will focus specifically on tweaking the molecular structure of EP67 into an even more potent tool against MRSA. Once he has identified potentially effective alternate versions of EP67, they will be tested in animals before compiling larger studies to begin the FDA approval process.

“The whole objective of this grant is to lead to an [Investigation New Drug] filing with the FDA and product development,” Dr. Sanderson said. “This grant is a great example of genuine translational research that embodies the fusion of academic research and product development with the objective of generating a commercially-available new therapy.”

Dr. Sanderson’s startup company, Prommune, has already tested EP67’s potential against H1N1, and is also looking at its effectiveness against certain parasitic infections.

Joe Vetro, Ph.D.

Joe Vetro, Ph.D.

In its basic form, EP67 is a so-called “platform technology” because it can also be used for more effective or targeted treatments to a wide range of ailments, including the H1N1 and avian flu viruses.

Earlier this year, Dr. Sanderson teamed with fellow UNMC researcher Joe Vetro, Ph.D., for another R01 grant on a separate project. Funded for $1.75 million, that project will look at EP67-based vaccines against cytomegalovirus or CMV—a relatively harmless infection in healthy adults, but dangerous to those with a weakened immune system, particularly newborns, infants and the elderly.

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UNeMed inks collaborative deal with Streck, focus on diagnostics

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OMAHA, Neb. (July 7, 2016)—A new agreement between UNeMed and Streck creates a research and development collaboration between the two largest biotechnology firms in the state, officials announced today.

UNeMed, the technology transfer and commercialization arm of UNMC, entered into a master collaboration agreement with Streck, an Omaha-based company that develops and manufactures diagnostic products for clinical and research laboratories. The master agreement provides the framework for a myriad of new and continued collaborations that could lead to new healthcare products.

“I really love it that we could set something like this up with Streck,” said UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon. “Streck is a Nebraska company that employs Nebraskans, and they are completely invested in boosting the local economy as much as we are. What better partner is there to help develop more biotechnology products? I can’t wait to see all the things that might grow out of this.”

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Catherine Gebhart, Ph.D.

For their first collaborative project, Streck will finance the work of UNMC researcher Catherine Gebhart, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the pathology and microbiology department. Dr. Gebhart also oversees the virology testing procedures for Nebraska Medicine’s organ transplant program.

“Streck has been following the work of Dr. Gebhart for years and she has always been a valued industry resource to us,” said Connie Ryan, Streck President and CEO. “We are honored to support her important work. Advances in testing–and ultimately, new developments in diagnostics and improvements in patient care–are in her most capable hands.”

In a two-year project, Dr. Gebhart will focus on developing a more powerful testing method for the human Herpes simplex virus.

Getting results from current Herpes testing methods can take more than three hours. Streck and Dr. Gebhart are looking to knock that down to less than 20 minutes using Streck’s patented technology. The Streck Zulu RT™ Thermal Cycler is a machine that dramatically improves efficiency by reducing the time-consuming process of amplifying small amounts of DNA into millions of copies.

Called a polymerase chain reaction, the process is a key step in the diagnostic process and can take hours using traditional means. Streck’s system can do it in less than 20 minutes.

The collaborative effort hopes to create a procedure that can make the Zulu RT system part of an efficient workflow for Herpes virus research applications; future use as a diagnostic tool in clinical settings, with FDA clearance, would likely follow.

UNMC and Streck are evaluating additional research projects for other collaborative opportunities.

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Dixon speaks at SBIR Road Tour

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UNeMed PResident and CEO Michael Dixon during the SBIR Road Show, held at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Mammel Hall on June 29, 2016.

UNeMed PResident and CEO Michael Dixon during the SBIR Road Show, held at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Mammel Hall on June 29, 2016.

OMAHA, Neb. (June 29, 2016)—UNeMed President and CEO Michael Dixon was on hand Wednesday for the SBIR Road Tour at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The Road Tour highlighted the $2.5 billion in federal grant money available through the SBIR/STTR program, and helped researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs learn how they might make use of the funding opportunities.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are managed through several federal agencies, and about a dozen were on hand at UNO’s College of Business Administration at Mammel Hall.

The event was free and open to all, and guests also had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with program managers, where they could share their ideas and gain insights into the award process.

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HealthChart to develop new lymphoma diagnostic

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licenseSTOCKrgbOMAHA, Neb. (June 16, 2016)—UNeMed announced today a recently struck licensing deal with a diagnostics and medical device company in Memphis, Tenn., HealthChart LLC, to further develop a new test that could significantly improve treatment strategies for certain types of rare blood cancers—peripheral T-cell lymphoma.

The most common form of peripheral T-cell lymphoma—referred to as “not otherwise specified,” or PTCL-NOS for short—is notoriously difficult to treat because it can’t be classified into any known category. Different types of peripheral T-cell lymphoma have different treatment strategies, but a type that essentially fits under “none of the above” requires some guesswork from physicians.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center developed a new method to classify “not otherwise specified” forms of peripheral T-cell lymphomas. The breakthrough method measures the genetic profiles of the peripheral T-cell lymphoma cells, and enables researchers to classify previously unknown lymphoma types.

The method will also aid in accurate diagnosis and prognosis of other peripheral T-cell lymphoma subtypes, including angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, anaplastic T-cell lymphoma  and  gamma-delta T-cell lymphoma.

HealthChart will work with and support UNMC researchers to help refine the method into a more robust test that could serve a critical role as a companion diagnostic as new treatment strategies enter clinical trials.

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What I learned as a tech transfer intern

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by Brooke Dillon, UNeMed | June 14, 2016

I had a wonderful experience as a legal intern at UNeMed. I aspire to be a patent attorney, and began working at UNeMed in the summer of my first year in law school. For the past two years, I have been able to work with great people to take inventions from an idea’s beginning in a researcher’s laboratory to a final product sold in the marketplace. The internship taught me to ask good questions, to embrace learning new things, and to create systems.

WEB_brooke_dillon_2014An invention begins with an idea. For example, say a researcher is studying the effects of second-hand smoke on the lungs of ferrets. The researcher needs a certain material to conduct the study. As a legal intern, I helped to draft and negotiate a Material Transfer Agreement, the contract that allows a researcher to use another institution’s materials.

After the researcher conducts the experiment, the researcher discovers something. In this hypothetical scenario, the discovery is a biomarker that predicts lung cancer in young adults. The researcher would then send UNeMed his idea to determine if the invention could receive a patent.

As an intern, I searched for prior art references, including other patents or publications that taught our researcher’s idea. If I found prior art references, it would be more difficult to get a patent on the idea. If a researcher is able to get a patent on the invention, then we would work at marketing and licensing the device to companies. I worked on a variety of interesting inventions, ranging from surgical tools to biomedical prosthetics to air conditioning systems. Along the way, I learned to:

  • Ask questions: Sometimes inventors send us their ideas with little explanation. Having a discussion with an inventor can change or expand the whole invention. Many people believe patents are for large, complicated inventions, such as time machines or cold fusion. However, patents often cover small improvements on existing items. In order to ascertain what the small improvement is, you have to be able to ask insightful questions. One of the attorneys I worked with told me the best question to ask an inventor is, “What else could it be?”
  • Embrace learning new things: As an intern, I often received projects that I had never worked on before. Sometimes it was a familiar patent search, but the technology was something I had not heard of. Or the project was a contract I had not drafted yet. I would sit at my desk and think, “no one taught me this in law school.” I learned over time that it was not the information I already knew but what I was willing to learn that made the biggest difference in a project’s outcome. Working in patent law means you get to work with new ideas every day. As I embraced learning, I found that I enjoyed my work immensely.
  • Create systems: Organization and repetition can make a tremendous difference in how quickly a task is completed. I eventually realized that you do not have to reinvent the wheel for each new assignment. Drafting most contracts comes down to four questions: 1. Who are the parties? 2. What are they negotiating? 3. What is most important to our side? 4. How do I communicate that in the contract?  Most inventions break down to a series of elements, and searching those elements requires thinking of all the words that could be used to describe them. As I learned to find the common thread that ran through my various projects, I could create a general system that I would repeat and tweak to new projects.

Thank you to everyone at UNeMed who has helped me! I learned so much here. I do not think that would be possible without your patience, willingness to answer my questions, and your flexibility with my schedule. This has been a wonderful experience. UNeMed is a great place to work and I recommend it for other interns!

About: Brooke Dillon is the former legal intern for UNeMed. She holds law degree and an MBA from Creighton University and recently passed the U.S. Patent Bar in March 2015. Brooke intends to continue her education in the fall of 2016 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and an advanced biology degree.

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UNeMed startup MotoMetrix joins Straight Shot class of ’16

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straighshotLOGOOMAHA, Neb. (June 6, 2016)—UNeMed expanded its approach to commercializing its portfolio of inventions and innovations, announcing today a deeper relationship with Straight Shot, an Omaha accelerator focused on helping technology startups.

For the first time, a UNeMed technologies will run through Straight Shot’s rigorous 90-day program, beginning with the kickoff event on June 9.

The technology is a concussion detection platform developed at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s world-class biomechanics lab. The inventor, Nick Stergiou, Ph.D., developed a remarkable device that can measure the almost imperceptible adjustments in a persons’ standing balance. Those adjustments look different when that same person then suffers a brain injury, such as a concussion.

UNeMed Business Development Manager Joe Runge used the technology to build a new startup, MotoMetrix.

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Joe Runge

“What makes the technology exciting is that it can do more than detect a concussion,” Runge said. “It can also establish when someone is recovered from a concussion, which makes it safe for them to return to play.”

Straight Shot connected MotoMetrix with an entrepreneur, Preston Badeer, who will run the new company as its CEO while taking advantage of the intensive accelerator program this summer. Part of the program will involve developing the business model for the company, identifying its customers, how to reach them, and then how to market and sell concussion detection services to those customers.

If successful, the company could then expand to than just detecting concussions, but a much wider range of neurologic disorders, which could include early detection of Parkinson’s.

“One of the more impressive things about Dr. Stergiou’s work is that his approach to these big problems involves finding really big answers,” Runge said. “Motometrix is a compelling business because it can focus on sports medicine immediately, and then expand into traumatic brain injury and other neural disorders.”

MotoMetrix will get its first public airing when Straight Shot introduces the class of 2016—a collection of eight new startups rooted in the Midwest—during its kickoff event on June 9, 6-7:30 p.m., on the seventh floor of The Exchange building in downtown Omaha. Registration for free tickets to that event is available through EventBrite.

UNeMed hopes this is just the first of many University of Nebraska technologies and startups to enter the Straight Shots program, Runge said.

“I consider it a personal failure that we didn’t have something in the program every year,” he said of Straight Shot, which is entering its fourth year. “It’s a relationship that we have been seeking for a long time. We have the kind of new technologies that the marketplace needs, and they find and support the entrepreneurs that can partner with our faculty to take new technology to the marketplace.”

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Veins and arteries are just pipes, right?

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by Joe Runge, UNeMed | June 2, 2016

Your veins and arteries are not just pipes. They expand and contract. They grow and shrink. They repair themselves. Like every part of your body, they are made of living tissue that responds to what you do and the environment around you.

veinspipesFINPipes can’t do that.

Pipes aren’t lined with cells that sense rate, direction and flow. Pipes aren’t ringed with muscles that expand and contract in response to momentary needs. Pipes do not grow in order to increase flow to your shower. They do not shrink and wither away when you switch the water off.

The diseases that afflict your circulatory system are not a failure in plumbing. If blood vessels were mere pipes, then atherosclerosis would just be a clog. It isn’t. A doctor cannot simply snake out your coronary arteries like a plumber. The narrowing of your blood vessels is the result of a complex immunological reaction that occurs between your blood vessels and the chemicals in your blood. Doctors physically pry open your arteries in order to treat your coronary artery disease, but they almost immediately start narrowing again.

That narrowing is a reaction to what’s in your blood—the chemically destructive byproducts of fat and cholesterol, or free radicals. It is actually your body’s immune system’s reaction to the free radicals that drives atherosclerosis.

New research about atherosclerosis suggests that your immune system’s ability to clear free radicals from your arteries is a critical factor to assess your risk of heart attacks, it’s your immune state that helps predict if you die young from a heart attack. The way your immune system reacts to the fat and cholesterol in your blood may be as important as your diet in assessing your risk of a heart attack.

A new blood test invented by a team of scientists and doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center measures your immune response to how fat and cholesterol break down in your blood. The team was able to differentiate people who have stable atherosclerotic disease from those that had sudden heart attacks. For the first time, doctors can predict that sudden heart attack–well before it happens.

Such a ground-breaking concept requires a deep understanding of the cardiovascular system, and how it reacts to subtle changes. While artery disease can be a measure of the immune system response, blood vessels also react to subtle physical changes as well. Blood vessels do not just react to what’s in your blood, they also react to how your blood flows. Just as your blood vessels narrow due to atherosclerosis, they can also grow.

As a body builder pumps iron, his blood vessels grow. Cells inside his veins react to the increase in blood flow to feed his muscles. The same process that pops veins on bulging biceps will help some chronically ill people–patients in kidney failure.

Your kidneys filter the waste out of your blood. If they fail, you’ll have about a week or two before all that waste in your body rises to toxic levels high enough to kill you. You’ll need a new kidney or a machine to fill in until a suitable donor can be found. Filtering the blood through a machine, hemodialysis, saves countless lives every day. But it requires access to a large blood vessel.

FistualFINDoctors have to make that blood vessel by creating something called an arteriovenous fistula. The surgeon cuts a vein in the patient’s arm and sutures it to a nearby artery. The artery has much greater blood pressure and blood flow than the vein, so when the procedure is successful, the vein swells to accept the increased blood flow.

Most fistulas fail, usually when the vein clots after the surgery. Marius Florescu, M.D., believes the failure is due to the pattern of blood flow. He observed that most blood vessels connect at very gentle angles, like a highway off ramp. Blood vessels facilitate blood flow at highway speeds by making very gradual curves. Current research supports that blood vessels work best at highway speed. The body builder’s veins pop because the blood inside them is moving fast through the long, gently curving blood veins. His veins are growing in response to the blood’s laminar flow.

Fistulas are made at hard, right angles. Instead of a nice, long off-ramp it comes to a sudden stop at a T-intersection. That T-intersection is the opposite of laminar flow. Instead of highway speed it is stop-and-go traffic.

The cells lining the inside of the vein are able to detect that traffic, which makes the vein reluctant to grow.  The vein is looking for highway speed and when it finds heavy traffic, the vein will shrink to protect the rest of the vascular system from whatever is disrupting blood flow.

Dr. Florescu invented a new device that creates on-ramps instead of T-intersections. The device is a platform that the surgeon can place inside the vein during fistula surgery. It holds the fistula at a gentle angle so that blood flows through the fistula in a less turbulent way. The platform is inexpensive and actually makes the surgical procedure faster, safer and more likely to succeed. After the connection between the artery and vein is solid enough, the device will disappear being resorbed by the body.

What your blood vessels do is invisible. They dilate and constrict in an instant response to your environment. They grow and shrink in response to your body’s gradual changes. They are ground zero for chronic, immunological changes in your body.

The only time we notice them is when they fail–a lot like the pipes in your home.

The new blood test to predict risk of heart attack and the fistula maturation platform take results from brilliant research and apply them to improve patients’ lives. The scientists and doctors have so much more to learn about the complex wonder that is the human body.

Perhaps the first barrier to the next discovery is to look at a blood vessel and see more than a pipe.

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Federal grant program hits the road

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SBIRroadtourlogoOMAHA, Neb. (May 17, 2016)—There is $2.5 billion in federal grant money available through the SBIR/STTR program, and an upcoming “road show” will help researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs learn how they might make use of the funding opportunities.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are managed through several federal agencies, and about a dozen will be on hand when the SBIR/STTR Road Tour rolls into Omaha on June 29. The all-day event will be held at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Business Administration, from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event is free and open to all, and attendees can expect to learn more about funding opportunities from specific federal agencies and how to win awards through those programs.

In addition to federal program overviews and presentations, some guests will also have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with program managers, where they can share their ideas and gain insights into the award process. Program managers from the USDA, NASA, NIH and the departments of the Navy and Air Force will all be on hand, to name a few.

The event is entirely free, but registration is required. Attendees will have the opportunity to schedule one-on-one meetings with specific program managers once they begin the registration process at http://nbdc.unomaha.edu/road-tour-tickets.

Registration will be open until June 28, but the deadline to sign up for one-on-one meetings is June 15.

The SBIR/STTR Road Show is a summer-long series planned for about 20 cities throughout the United States. Immediately prior to Omaha, the road show will be in Laramie, Wyo., on June 27 before swinging through Omaha and onto Wichita, Kan., and Oklahoma City. The road show will return to the Midwest on Aug. 17 and Aug. 18 when it arrives in in Ames, Iowa, and St. Louis, respectively.

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UNeMed hosts Partnering Summit

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UNMC researcher Rongshi Li, Ph.D., meets with Niall O'Donnell, of the venture capital firm RiverVest, during UNeMed's 2016 Industry Partnering Summit held at UNMC's Michael F. Sorrell Center on May 10.

UNMC researcher Rongshi Li, Ph.D., (left) meets with Niall O’Donnell, of the venture capital firm RiverVest, during UNeMed’s 2016 Industry Partnering Summit held at UNMC’s Michael F. Sorrell Center on May 10.

OMAHA, Neb. (May 10, 2016)—UNeMed’s first-ever Industry Partnering Summit Tuesday had all the appearances of success, leading officials toward making the event a regular offering in future years.

Pfizer representative Naglaa Mohamed meets with UNMC researcher Tammy Kielian (obscured) during UNeMed’s 2016 Industry Partnering Summit held at UNMC’s Michael F. Sorrell Center on May 10.

“We had 10 UNMC technologies on display, and several of the companies have expressed interest in learning more about them,” said UNeMed president and CEO Michael Dixon. “That’s a great day for us. These are new relationships that could move a UNMC innovation closer toward improving healthcare for everyone. ”

Sponsored by UNMC’s technology transfer and commercialization office, UNeMed, the Partnering Summit brought to campus several venture capital and pharmaceutical industry representatives from local, regional and international firms. The representatives were treated to an all-day event that featured departmental overviews and short presentations about the latest innovative therapies invented and developed by UNMC researchers. An additional nine UNMC technologies were made accessible to industrial and investment groups through a poster session at the end of the day.

UNMC researcher Joyce Solheim, Ph.D., breaks down her nantechnology approach for using immunotherapy for treating cancer during UNeMed's 2016 Industry Partnering Summit held at UNMC's Michael F. Sorrell Center on May 10.

UNMC researcher Joyce Solheim, Ph.D., breaks down her nantechnology approach for using immunotherapy to treat cancer during UNeMed’s 2016 Industry Partnering Summit held at UNMC’s Michael F. Sorrell Center on May 10.

“We received a lot of positive feedback from both the UNMC participants and the industry participants,” said UNeMed licensing manager, Matt Boehm, who conceived and organized the event. “We’ll see what comes out of it, but I think we accomplished what we set out to do, which was get people in the same room and have meaningful conversations.”

UNMC innovation presentations were a vaccine strategy for treating Parkinson’s; new antibacterial compounds; a gene therapy treatment for diabetic complications; a new formulation for treating biofilm infections; a nanoparticle immunotherapy for cancer; IKK-beta inhibitors; a new prodrug for the treatment of lupus; a new peptide for stimulating  the immune system; targeted radiopharmaceuticals for the treatment and diagnosis of cancer; and a nanoparticle to treat spinal cord injury.

Learn more about the technologies and find the full list of presentations in the event program here:

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Anyone can be an inventor. Period.

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by Amanda Hawley, UNeMed | May 6, 2016

anyone_inventorYes. Anyone can be an inventor.

All you need is: 1. a brain, and 2. a medium to harness your ideas. You can excavate your brain nuggets using a computer, a pen and paper, or like children, a rock and the side of a car.

Fruitful thinkers recognize gaps in knowledge, problems needing a solution, or the potential to make something better. We call them “inventors” and “innovators” because they create something not yet seen nor known.

Innovative thinking is best exemplified by so-called “life hacks“. A “hack” demonstrates an alternative use or design modification that enhances the functionality of an existing technology. Who knew that binder clips and toilet-paper tubes had so many unconventional applications? This form of innovative thinking is an early step toward uncovering a novel concept or imagining a new invention. The difficult task is knowing what to do next. Anyone can have a eureka moment, but for some, that is as far as the innovation goes.

Despite encouragement, many hesitate to cultivate an idea into reality.

As a UNeMed Licensing Associate, I’ve sat face-to-face with UNMC staff who limited themselves with disclaimers: “I’m not in a highly esteemed position…I don’t wear a white coat…I’ve never written a grant before.”

Some have admitted to feeling foolish when submitting an invention. Or, they deem their invention doomed before the ink has dried on the disclosure form.

Truth is, an idea cannot be considered bad if it never sees the light of day.

UNeMed provides inventors a New Invention Notification (NIN) form to describe their invention and the timeline of its creation. Using these details, UNeMed performs extensive research to determine whether your invention is distinct or has a doppelganger. UNeMed frees UNMC inventors to ponder breakthroughs while we evaluate the invention’s potential to strive over barriers.

Submitting eureka moments is now easier than ever with the UNMC mobile app “ideas” button.  The app is free and available for both Apple and Android platforms. Determining the future of your idea all starts with one click.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome when bringing an idea to fruition may be yourself. A popular Chinese proverb states “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” If you never take the first step, you will never know where the journey could lead you.

An invention that could impact the world is instead thrown into the bowels of the junk closet. A novel concept that may surpass all imagination and revolutionize its field of use, will instead forever remain a “what-if.”

Anyone with an innovative idea can be an inventor.

The question is, what will you do with it?

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Dan Hoffman named CEO at Invest Nebraska Corporation

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Dan Hoffman

Dan Hoffman

LINCOLN, Neb. (April 27, 2016)—After serving less than a month as the interim Chief Executive Officer, Dan Hoffman was permanently promoted to the position by Invest Nebraska Corporation’s board of directors on April 12.

Hoffman was Invest Nebraska’s Chief Operating Officer until March when then-CEO Mark Crawford resigned to take a position with Intel Capital in California.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have someone like Dan Hoffman take the reins of Invest Nebraska,” said Michael Dixon, Invest Nebraska’s chairman of the board. “His knowledge and skills are a natural fit as Invest Nebraska continues to grow and expand its suite of services to help develop high-growth, high-impact companies across Nebraska.”

Invest Nebraska is the state’s nonprofit venture development organization, using public and private funds to support and invest in Nebraska-based businesses. Created in 2002, Invest Nebraska has made an impact across the entire state, making 41 seed investments in businesses from Scottsbluff to Omaha.

“We’re agnostic when it comes to industries,” Hoffman said. “Our main objectives are to grow and diversify Nebraska’s economic engine by accelerating the development of new technology-based companies today. Invest Nebraska has made seed investments in a variety of early-stage businesses across the state in biotech, food/ag tech, manufacturing, and IT.”

Funded in part by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Invest Nebraska also plays a large role in developing the state’s entrepreneurial infrastructure needed to grow technology based companies. Last year, Invest Nebraska announced efforts to expand the state’s IT workforce through the TechHire Nebraska collaboration program in Kearney and Grand Island. TechHire is a nationwide initiative aimed at training and mentoring non-traditional candidates for entry-level positions in the IT industry.

Hoffman and Invest Nebraska also played a key role in building the entrepreneurial infrastructure for early-stage biotechnology companies. Funded by a $750,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration-U.S. Department of Commerce and $750,000 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Biotech Connector is a collaborative effort that includes Nebraska Innovation Campus, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Bio Nebraska. This 10,000 square foot wet-lab space located at Nebraska Innovation Campus will incubate biotech startups spun out of the university as well as early stage companies from the community.

Prior to joining Invest Nebraska in 2008, Hoffman served Governors Mike Johanns and Dave Heinemann as a senior policy adviser in the areas of economic development, labor and taxation.. Hoffman holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in economics, both from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a 2012 graduate of the Venture Capital Institute.

“Dan has been a consistent driver of Invest Nebraska’s growth and maturation over the past eight years,” said Dixon, who is also the president and CEO of UNeMed, the technology transfer office at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “He’s the heart and soul of the company, and there couldn’t be a better person for the job.”

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