TTO’s annual awards honor faculty researchers, technology commercialization

By Staff

The University of Colorado Technology Transfer Office (TTO) hosted its annual awards ceremony Tuesday night, honoring several faculty researchers, two companies founded on university research, and several members of the local entrepreneurial community.

In the last two decades, inventions by CU researchers have led to the formation of 114 new companies. Of these, 85 have operations in Colorado, seven have “gone public,” becoming publicly traded companies (either through an IPO or via a reverse merger), and 17 have been acquired by public companies. In total, companies created based on CU technology have attracted more than $5.6 billion in financing.

“The University of Colorado is a primary driver for the Colorado economy in many ways – one way that is often less visible than our thousands of graduates, new buildings and faculty accolades is the commercialization of research,” said David Allen, associate vice president for technology transfer at CU. “This event recognizes excellence in the people and licensee companies that exemplify CU’s success in transforming research into real-world impact.”

The researchers and companies that were recognized this year represent all CU campuses, and are developing technologies ranging from novel treatments for chronic pain, eye disease and metabolic syndrome to new materials with applications in clean energy, and techniques for more efficient biofuels and solar power.

This year’s award winners:

Jeffrey L. Olson, Inventor of the Year, CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus. Olson, an associate professor of ophthalmology, specializes in the medical and surgical management of retinal diseases like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinal detachment. One of his inventions, a method for preserving eyesight through the use of nanotechnology, is licensed to a CU startup currently raising Series A financing.

Linda R. Watkins, Inventor of the Year, CU-Boulder. Watkins, a Distinguished Professor of psychology, has developed novel drugs and new uses of known drugs targeting various disorders with unmet medical needs, including chronic and neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, ALS and addiction. Her inventions have led to numerous industry collaborations and licenses, as well as the formation of a new company, Xalud Therapeutics.

Richard J. Johnson, New Inventor of the Year, CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus. Johnson is chief of the division of renal diseases and hypertension; his research has focused on the mechanisms of renal injury and progression, including in diabetes and hypertension. Recent work has also examined the role of uric acid and fructose in obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and hypertension.

Wei Zhang, New Inventor of the Year, CU-Boulder. Zhang, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is developing novel materials with potential applications in solar energy conversion, gas separation and storage, chemical sensing and catalysis.

Anatoliy O. Pinchuk, New Inventor of the Year, CU-Colorado Springs. Pinchuk is an assistant professor of physics and energy science; his research focuses on nano-materials for intracellular imaging and optical bio-chemical sensors.

OPX Biotechnologies, Bioscience Company of the Year. OPXBIO of Boulder is a venture-backed company making renewable bio-based chemicals and fuels that are lower cost, higher return and more sustainable than existing petroleum-based products.

Phobos Energy, Physical Sciences/Engineering/IT Company of the Year. Phobos Energy (Menlo Park, Calif., and Lafayette, Colo.) is focused on increasing energy production, decreasing costs, and opening new applications for solar photovoltaic power production.

S. Gail Eckhardt, Business Adviser of the Year. Eckhardt is chief of the division of medical oncology at the Anschutz Medical Campus. As an adviser to TTO on drug discovery and development projects, she is critically important in facilitating industry collaborations involving not just her lab, but labs of her CU collaborators.

Michael R. Bristow, Serial University Start-up Entrepreneur Award. Bristow, a professor of medicine (division of cardiology) at the Anschutz Medical Campus, was a founder and former chief science and medical officer of Myogen, Inc. (acquired by Gilead Sciences, Inc. in 2006). He is the president and CEO of Broomfield-based ARCA biopharma, a company he founded in 2003 with the goal of developing genetically targeted therapies for heart failure. In 2007 he co‐founded Boulder’s miRagen Therapeutics, a company dedicated to utilizing the biologic properties of microRNAs in developing therapies for cardiovascular diseases.

Also, two CU researchers were inducted into the Pinnacles of Inventorship, an all-star group recognizing continuous commitment to best practices in technology transfer: Kristi S. Anseth (Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, CU-Boulder) and Charles A. Dinarello (professor of Medicine and Immunology, Anschutz Medical Campus).

The TTO presented the awards during a banquet at the historic Tivoli Turnhalle. The awards followed a panel discussion offering faculty perspectives on the origins of university inventions.