Technology  November 30, 2012

University researchers, companies work together for technological advances and business opportunities

Innovation, as any mad scientist will acknowledge, rarely happens as a solitary pursuit, which is why collaborations between researchers, companies and universities are increasingly on the rise across the Front Range and Wyoming.

It’s what some might call a virtuous cycle.

Researchers create new products and technologies, then license them from universities and create new companies. Large sums of money often end up with the university in such a case — money that can be used to help other researchers work on commercializing yet another new product or technology.

And so on and so on.

Larry Gold, a University of Colorado-Boulder professor and a biotech “serial entrepreneur,” is well known for helping create one of the more high-profile collaborations.

Gold hosts the annual GoldLab Symposium to bring leaders in the health-care industry to Boulder to speak. He also is a founder of SomaLogic Inc., a company that researches proteins in the body used as biomarkers for disease.

In 1989, Gold and a graduate student started working on the technology in his lab, funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Since then, Gold estimates the industry has spent $1 billion in similar research — and now SomaLogic partners with leading national companies such as Quest Diagnostics Inc. in New York and Novartis International AG, based in Basel, Switzerland.

“We have done a good job of getting into collaborations with really smart, good people,” Gold said. “It’s thrilling. You learn new stuff every day, and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Gold also is known for founding NeXagen Inc. in Boulder, which later became NeXstar Pharmaceuticals Inc. In 1999, NeXstar merged with Gilead Sciences Inc. to form a company that would develop products to treat infectious diseases.

SomaLogic is just one of many examples of smaller companies collaborating with big national firms on research projects.

The new Jennie Smoly Caruthers biotechnology building on the University of Colorado Boulder campus is another place where collaboration is part and parcel of everyday thinking.

Boulder professor and biochemist Marv Caruthers donated $20 million to the university in 2007 in his wife’s name, after she died of cancer.

Marv Caruthers was a co-founder of Amgen Inc. and a founder and investor of several other Boulder biotech companies. Now based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Amgen is the largest biotechnology company in the world, and employs about 700 people at facilities in Boulder and Longmont.

Caruthers is known for designing techniques to build DNA and RNA, the molecules of heredity in the human body. He received a National Medal of Science from the White House in 2007 for his work.

Working at the Jennie Smoly Caruthers building is Tom Cech, Nobel Prize laureate who won the prize in chemistry in 1989. Cech is director of the BioFrontiers Institute, which is designed to encourage collaboration between researchers and companies.

At the University of Colorado at Denver, faculty members in the departments of ophthalmology and bioengineering who started the company ShapeTech LLC recently signed a collaboration agreement with Abbott Medical Optics Inc. in Santa Ana, California.

The two companies will jointly develop new polymers used in cataract surgery.

Several research projects at CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus recently received up to $250,000 each in grants from the state of Colorado to help them move their products and research toward commercialization. The researchers had to show matching federal grants or non-founder private investment to be eligible for the money.

Innovation, as any mad scientist will acknowledge, rarely happens as a solitary pursuit, which is why collaborations between researchers, companies and universities are increasingly on the rise across the Front Range and Wyoming.

It’s what some might call a virtuous cycle.

Researchers create new products and technologies, then license them from universities and create new companies. Large sums of money often end up with the university in such a case — money that can be used to help other researchers work on commercializing yet another new product or technology.

And so on and so on.

Larry Gold, a University of Colorado-Boulder professor and a…

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