Business Spinoffs Help Move UT Dallas Research into Marketplace
CerSci Therapeutics was founded by UT Dallas faculty members (from left) Dr. Greg Dussor, Dr. Lucas Rodriguez MS'14, PhD'16 and Dr. Theodore Price. The company is focused on developing nonopioid pain therapeutics for the treatment and prevention of acute and chronic pain.
A company created by three UT Dallas faculty members has been awarded a small-business drug discovery grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant to CerSci Therapeutics is one of the first drug discovery grants awarded to a University spinoff company.
The NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is one of the multiple funding opportunities available to help UT Dallas professors who want to see their laboratory research find practical applications in business and society.
“The purpose of spinning out new companies from UT Dallas is to move technologies from the University into the marketplace and develop the technology to a point where larger companies might become interested,” said Rafael Martin, interim vice president for research.
“The purpose of spinning out new companies from UT Dallas is to move technologies from the University into the marketplace and develop the technology to a point where larger companies might become interested.”
Dr. Theodore Price, associate professor of neuroscience in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and co-founder of CerSci, said SBIR grants are an important step in developing research while maintaining scientific control of the company.
“This first phase grant of $225,000 gives us the chance to get more data and build the intellectual property portfolio without having to sell equity in the company to investors,” Price said. He also said that the data from this first phase will be used to apply for a second phase grant that could provide up to $2 million in funding.
Founded in early 2015 by Price, Dr. Greg Dussor, associate professor of neuroscience; and Dr. Lucas Rodriguez MS'14, PhD'16, senior lecturer in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science; CerSci is focused on developing nonopioid pain therapeutics for the treatment and prevention of acute and chronic pain.
Martin said UT Dallas usually benefits from such spinoff companies through a small equity stake in the company and employment opportunities for UT Dallas graduates. While such companies can create the potential for conflicts of interest for the faculty involved, he said that these conflicts are managed through a robust disclosure and oversight process.
“We ensure that the interests of the University and students always come first. Then, within that context, if a spinoff company is successful, the University will benefit as well,” Martin said.
The UT Dallas Office of Research reports since 2004, 33 companies have been started by professors who have developed ideas and who wanted to see those ideas get into the marketplace.
Dr. Walter Voit BS'05, MS'06, associate professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering, has launched a number of companies and sub-companies based on his research.
“We really want to make a difference. We don’t want our intellectual property to be bought and just sat on,” he said. “So we are working with larger companies that want to get out and change the world. And they rely on small companies like ours for new blood, new ideas, new enthusiasm, new materials and new technology — and that’s what we provide.”
Dr. Walter Voit, associate professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering, has started a number of companies based on his research.
One of his companies, Adaptive 3D Technologies, employs a team of 10 and has received support from Fortune 500 companies and a Phase II SBIR from the National Science Foundation. Instead of adapting materials to a 3-D printer, Adaptive 3D builds a printer that adapts to specialty materials.
“It’s an opportunity that companies have been looking at backwards,” Voit said.
Another of Voit’s companies, Qualia Inc., builds computer circuitry into shape-changing plastics that someday soon may be placed into human nervous systems to treat disease. Qualia has been funded by private investors and a $1.5 million Phase II SBIR grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
“We position sensors up against nerves then they get soft and minimize scar formation. That allows us to build longer-lasting interfaces with the nervous system so nerves can talk to computers,” Voit said.
In addition to faculty-founded companies, Martin noted that a number of students and alumni also create their own companies, often working through the UT Dallas Venture Development Center or other, similar organizations.
No matter who creates the company, Voit said UT Dallas students are major benefactors of the companies that are started at the University.
“If you look at the number of faculty jobs that are available, something like 1 in 14 graduate students can end up in academia. In a lot of cases, graduate students end up in big companies. But I think society is misserved if some of our best and brightest aren’t able to go and chase their own ideas when they are fresh out of school, hungry and motivated to change the world. The startup environment is an ideal place for that,” Voit said.
Price said he hopes the area around UT Dallas can become a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity and technology investment.
“I hope that as the whole pain research and discovery continues to grow, there’s going to be a rich portfolio in this area — some of it from UTD, some of it from companies, and we become a Silicon Valley-type-place for pain. Right here, next to UTD,” Price said.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].