By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Sometimes, something that seems so simple at the time produces a life-changing opportunity.
This was certainly the case for University of Tennessee (UT) researchers Jayne Wu and Shigetoshi Eda. The two were working independently on their research when they received a formal introduction to each other via a February 12, 2009 email from Paul Montgomery, then a long-time executive at Eastman Chemical Company.
At the time, Eda had heard of Wu and was contemplating contacting her. Meanwhile, Wu was interested in finding a collaborator in the UT Institute of Agriculture to help advance her research.
Eda shared the email exchange with Montgomery. It reads as follows:
“Shige: Thanks very much for those papers. I’ll certainly let you know if I find a potential opportunity. BTW, you may already know, but Dr. Jayne Wu in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Dept. is doing “lab-on-a-chip” research. May I share your Crohn’s disease paper with her?”
Eda’s response was: “Yes, please. Actually I was thinking to contact her sometime in the near future.”
And, as the old saying goes, the rest is history. The two began to collaborate, combining their ideas and expertise and, more important, learning from each other. The result was the technology that Meridian Bioscience, Inc. licensed earlier this year.
The company describes their invention as having “the potential to result in a low cost, point-of-care detection platform capable of detecting proteins, small molecules, bacteria and viruses in minutes.”
Meridian cites the UT team’s work in validating “the effectiveness of this sensor technology by detecting tuberculosis, a disease which is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of two million people annually worldwide. Meridian has validated these findings by detecting the human Influenza A virus directly from clinical samples in approximately two minutes.”
For Eda and Wu, meeting each other was just the start of their collaborative journey.
“Jayne and I already had an idea of what we wanted to do, but we did not know each other,” Eda said. “People (throughout UT) are thinking about collaboration, but they don’t know other.”
The two researchers knew they had something significant, but they readily admit they underestimated the challenges of getting from the research lab into the commercial marketplace.
“We thought we were ready three years ago,” Wu says with her perpetual smile and frequent laugh. “We knew it worked. We just could not guarantee it will work that day.”
Maha Krishnamurthy, Assistant Vice President at the UT Research Foundation (UTRF), says the latter reference underscores the difference between validations needed to write a research paper and those required to secure a licensing agreement.
Naturally, the company wanted something that worked time after time. How did UTRF get from an invention disclosure to Meridian Biosciences? More important, how did UTRF answer the question of consistency in results to meet Meridian’s requirements?
NEXT: Licensing technology takes time and patience.