Research Communications

Ohio University hosts second annual BioVenture Showcase 

December 11, 2008

Photo of Rick Hawkins.

Ohio University’s second annual BioVenture Showcase Wednesday connected university scientists and engineers with venture capitalists and other investors in an effort to commercialize new biomedical discoveries that could improve treatments for cancer, diabetes, and bacterial infections.

“We organized this event to raise the visibility of biosciences as an economic driver in the region,” said David Wight, director of Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute and co-sponsor of the showcase. “It also gives investors a preview of technologies they may be interested in developing down the road.”

The event’s keynote speaker, Ohio University alumnus Richard Hawkins, highlighted the history of the university’s biggest research commercialization success to date. Hawkins, a pharmaceutical industry expert who is now the chairman and CEO of LabNow, Inc., of Austin, Texas, worked with Ohio Eminent Scholar John Kopchick to translate the scientist’s discovery of growth hormone antagonists at the Edison Biotechnology Institute into a pharmaceutical drug.

The drug, Somavert, treats patients with acromegaly, a growth hormone disorder that creates excessive enlargement of the organs and limbs in adults. Hawkins noted that several entertainment and sports celebrities, including Andre the Giant, have suffered from the condition, which can result in premature death. The drug, distributed by Pfizer, is expected to generate $150 million in sales in the next year.

The process of taking Kopchick’s discovery from the lab to the marketplace took many years of clinical trials and negotiations with another company competing with a similar patent. But Hawkins’ persistence paid off. The FDA approved the drug in 2003, and patients with acromegaly and their families have praised the treatment for significantly improving their quality of life, he said.

The event also showcased four new research discoveries that Ohio University plans to commercialize:

•    Artificial intelligence software that can better monitor the glucose levels of patients with type 1 diabetes and aid physicians in developing more targeted treatment strategies. The technology was developed by Frank Schwartz, a physician and researcher in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Cindy Marling, a faculty member in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

•    New platinum-phosphate compounds that can effectively kill ovarian, testicular, head and neck cancer cells with potentially less toxicity than conventional drugs. The research is led by Rathindra Bose, a faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. He also is the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate College.

•    New antibacterial compounds that could combat antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. Though the number of such bacterial strains is on the rise, no new chemical classes of antibacterial compounds have been developed since 1963, explained researcher Stephen Bergmeier. Bergmeier, Mark McMills, both faculty members in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and two colleagues launched the biotech firm Promiliad Biopharma to commercialize new technologies that aim to address the problem.

•    Glycoprotein technology that yields biologically potent compounds that have a longer half-life than existing drugs. The research is led by Marcia Kieliszewski, a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

A panel of venture capitalists and investors also shared their insights into what types of university research technologies they look for and how they seek to translate such innovations to the marketplace – especially in today’s uncertain economic climate.

Panel moderator Tony Dennis, CEO of BioOhio, a non-profit organization designed to build and accelerate bioscience industry, research and education, noted that Ohio already has a strong track record of success in this field. The state, which is home to more than 800 bioscience-focused companies, was recently ranked fourth in the nation in biotechnology strength.

“Ohio University is one of the key organizations that does an outstanding job of creating investable technologies,” Dennis said.

Several speakers at the BioVenture Showcase noted that Forbes magazine recently ranked Ohio University fourth in the United States for research return on investment, which has helped push its technology commercialization efforts into the national spotlight.

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis also praised the institution’s faculty researchers and economic development staff for their success at efforts to commercialize new technologies. Entrepreneurship helps support the university’s core mission of teaching students, he said, while also giving back to the region.

“I believe that if we are to improve southeastern Ohio – and that’s a commitment we’ve made publicly over and over again – part of how we do that is creating jobs and bringing a better life to the people of our region,” McDavis said. “We have a huge opportunity to do that.”

The BioVenture showcase was sponsored by the Edison Biotechnology Institute, Russ College of Engineering and Technology and College of Osteopathic Medicine at Ohio University, as well as Athenian Venture Partners, Diagnostic Hybrids, BioOhio, Triathlon Medical Ventures, The Ohio Capital Fund, TechGrowth Ohio, OPERS and CreditSuisse. It was supported in part by a National Science Foundation Partnerships for Innovation award to the Edison Biotechnology Institute.

Contacts: David Wight, (740) 593-4713,; Communications and Marketing, (740) 593-2200; Research Communications, (740) 597-2166.