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Our Take on Being No. 3 in the Nation (or Why We Do What We Do)

By David Day, Former OTL Director

At the University of Florida Office of Technology Licensing, we like to think we make a difference for the #GatorGood, indeed, the greater global good, every time we help move a scientist’s discovery from the lab into the marketplace where it can make the world a better place.

In early 2017, the Milken Institute released its newest ranking of the technical commercialization efforts of universities, and UF ranks 3rd in the nation. The Milken Institute is an independent economic think tank whose mission is to improve lives and economic conditions of diverse populations around the world by helping leaders recognize and put into action innovative ideas for creating broad-based prosperity.

We are determined every day to be a part of that.

In designating their rankings, Milken measured and weighed patents granted, licenses executed, licensing income, and startups. In the past four years we generated 395 patents, 547 licenses and options, $127.9 million in income, and 62 startups.

“Our top-ranked tech transfer operation is driving economic development and cycling royalty dollars back into research,” UF Vice President for Research David Norton told Milken. “More importantly, it’s moving the research out of the lab and into the world.”

We are driven by the knowledge that without our efforts some lifesaving medicine may not make it to the market. That is a heavy responsibility from which we will not, as Tom Petty sings, back down. We will do what it takes to launch these deals with the researchers and industry successfully. Whether it is hustling to find a CEO with whom a scientist can partner, being flexible on deal terms, or financially supporting a patent without a sponsor to give good science an opportunity to mature — we are in it for the long run.

We are a relationship group. In fiscal year 2016, over half of our deals were with companies with whom we had previously done business. We rely upon the brilliant discoveries of our scientists and our commercial partners; without either one we would not exist. By doing this, our office puts technology to work and gives technology a face while doing so.

Consider Shirley, for example, whose life was handicapped by pain until a technology discovered by UF scientists inspired entrepreneurs, who started the company Axogen, which developed the nerve graft doctors used in Shirley’s leg, removing pain that had plagued her since childhood.

That same company saved the arm of Marine Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Cole, after he was shot during a 2010 firefight in Afghanistan. He was one of the first patients in the world to receive one of the longest available nerve grafts made by Axogen — nearly 3 inches, grown from cadaver tissue — to repair his arm. Instead of an amputated limb, Jeffrey has full use and feeling in his arm.

Charles was the first patient treated on the MRIdian system, developed by a UF researcher and brought to market by ViewRay. After being diagnosed with an aggressive and deadly cancer, Charles received the combined imaging and radiation treatment system, which, said Charles, “has given me the most precious gift… time.”

We take pride in the number of startups our office can claim. Of the 195 started in my tenure with OTL, nearly 75 percent of them are still in business. Do these companies make money and provide jobs? Absolutely. Axogen reported revenue of $41 million in 2016 and a growth rate of 50 percent over the preceding year. ViewRay reported revenue of $22 million in 2016, more than doubling revenue from 2015 ($10.4 million).

Tech transfer is bigger than our office. We depend on innovators discovering, entrepreneurs lending their business expertise and vision, investors funding that vision, and, ultimately, the end users who make it all worthwhile.

Just this week, someone said to me, “I have this underlying belief that people who discover or seek to invest money or effort into getting technologies into the market are altruistic in the sense that they are not driven (just) by fame or fortune but by a desire to help make things better. Am I correct?”

She is so correct. That is what makes this business so gratifying. Yes, I’m thrilled that the Milken Institute ranked our university’s technology commercialization efforts as 3rd in the country. But I am more thrilled at what that ranking represents: being a vital part of the process by which discoveries are making our world a better place.

It Was a Day to Celebrate People Who Change the World

The 11th annual A Celebration of Innovation showcase wasn’t a standing room only event — the thunderstorm that wreaked havoc the morning of April 4 made certain of that — but it was a standing up only event, at least immediately following OTL Director David Day‘s farewell speech in the opening session of the startup showcase.

Click or tap on the photo to see a variety of images from the annual event.

OTL Director David Day received a standing ovation after saying “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.” The assistant vice president for technology transfer is retiring in June. Click or tap on the photo to see other images from the annual event.

The startup showcase featured an opening session that celebrated innovation, a panel that included the inventor of a UF technology, the entrepreneur and investor who brought the technology to the marketplace, a surgeon who uses the invention, and the licensing officer who coordinated the transfer of technology. Following that, 12 startup companies pitched their business ideas (think Shark Tank) to an audience of investors and entrepreneurs.

View a variety of images from the A Celebration of Innovation event here.

“Clearly, David Day has been a driving force in the economic development of Gainesville,” Dr. David Norton, Vice President for Research, had said in his “Innovation Update” in which he highlighted the accomplishments of OTL, Sid Martin Biotech Institute, and the Innovation Hub at UF, all part of Day’s responsibility.

Norton’s speech included the numbers that tell at least part of the story of Day’s 16-year-long tenure with the University of Florida.

“We were averaging 10 licenses and options a year before David came to UF,” Norton said. “His first year with us, he raised that number to 50. Last fiscal year, OTL reached an all-time high of 122 licenses and options signed.”

In fact, in fiscal year 2015, UF made the U.S. Top 20 in every category measured by the Association of University Technology Managers, including number of startups created (195 total startups during Day’s reign). Norton credited Day’s contributions before welcoming Jim O’Connell, who will begin the transition into Day’s position April 10. Day will work with O’Connell over the next couple of months before retiring in June.

“The most important advice I’ve gotten about following in David Day’s footsteps are these two things: Stop the bad jokes and don’t mess up what David put into place,” O’Connell told the audience.

Day put his “bad jokes” on display immediately after in his farewell speech that swiped its title from the fourth cycle in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.”

In his speech, Day encouraged audience members to “do the right thing” and “take the high road” as he mixed his usual humor with inspirational examples, such as the kindness of Etta Mae Budd toward George Washington Carver, who helped Henry A. Wallace, who helped Norman Borlaug, who helped feed the world.

“You never know how your actions today might change the world tomorrow,” Day concluded.

The audience of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors gave him a standing ovation in response to his service to UF and the local community.

Entrepreneur of the Year

Steve Gatto, Entrepreneur of the Year 2017

Innovation Hub Director Jane Muir announced Stephen Gatto, chairman and CEO of Entrinsic Health Solutions, as the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year. Gatto is an experienced entrepreneur and manager, a recognized leader in the development and commercialization of new bio-based products, and founder of several successful companies.

Gatto’s work with UF’s OTL spans 25 years. He was founder, chairman and CEO of Myriant Corp., the first renewable chemicals company in North America to manufacture and commercialize bio-succinic acid. Under his leadership, Myriant secured two precedent-setting government financings by securing a $50 million cost-sharing grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as well as a $25 million business and industry loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Prior to Myriant, Gatto founded the first second-generation biofuels company and served as chairman and CEO of BC International Corp, which was acquired by BASF. During his tenure at both Myriant and BCI, Gatto raised more than $1 billion in equity and debt capital.

He has served on several presidential, congressional and U.S. DOE/DOA committees, has assisted in drafting key policies and is actively involved in public policy issues.

The Life Cycle of Innovation

This year’s panel featured the story of Makoplasty from its beginning to an end user. On stage, Mark Long, Dr. Scott Banks, Dr. Maurice Ferré, Dr. Tony Natale, Dr. Tristan Altbuch, and Dr. John Byatt.

As part of the opening session for showcase, a panel of guests, representing key players of the life cycle of a technology used in partial knee implant surgery, shared the story. Panelists included the inventor, Dr. Scott Banks; the co-founder and original CEO of MAKO, Dr. Maurice Ferré; one of the original investors, Dr. Tony Natale; a local surgeon who uses the technology with his patients, Dr. Tristan Altbuch; and the licensing officer who coordinated the transfer of this technology from the lab to the marketplace, Dr. John Byatt. Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute Director Mark Long moderated the panel.

“There are many different stages determining the success of a technology and a startup: invention, commercialization and licensing, management, funding, and implementation,” said Long, as he introduced the panel guests representing MAKOplasty.

MAKOplasty is a surgical procedure for partial knee or total hip arthroplasty using an interactive robotic arm system developed by MAKO Surgical Corp. MAKOplasty enables surgeons to offer customized implants. UF inventor Scott Banks, one of the panelists, and Dr. B.J. Fregly, also of UF, helped design the prosthetic knee implants MAKO used in combination with its robot-assisted surgical technology to enable a more precise surgery followed by an easier and faster recovery.

Using the system, doctors can determine optimal implant size, position, and alignment and precisely determine areas of bone they want to remove. The robotic arm system provides visual, auditory and tactile control to ensure that surgeons only remove diseased sections of the bone and join, preserving healthy tissue and ligaments. The system takes the guesswork out of surgery and results in a more natural feeling knee and faster recovery.

“What MAKO has done for us is produce reliability,” said Altbuch, who is part of The Orthopaedic Institute in Gainesville. “For me, it is a game changer in orthopaedic technology.”

Ferré co-founded MAKO Surgical Corp. with Rony Abovitz in 2004, and Dr. Martin Roche performed the first MAKOplasty partial knee replacement procedure in June 2006. In a period of 10 years, co-founder, chairman, CEO and President Ferré made MAKO the world leader in robotic orthopaedic surgery. The company grew to 500 employees and $100 million+ in revenues. The company raised more than $350 million in capital through private and public funding. It was also the first company to develop and commercialize 3D implants.

Stryker acquired MAKO in December of 2013 for $1.65 billion. Since 2006, more than 50,000 MAKO hip and knee procedures have been performed.

“Going through the Makoplasty surgery has changed my life,” said Arzina Zaza, a patient who underwent the procedure in Houston. “I had been unable to walk, shop, dance, sleep or even work a full day because of the pain. I had both knee surgeries done at the same time in 2013. Now I can dance, work out on the elliptical machine, play ping pong and travel without discomfort.”

Innovators Honored

Dr. Muzyczka was named Inventor of the Year 2017 for his work in gene therapy.

The evening segment of the showcase honored Dr. Nicholas Muzyczka as Inventor of the Year. Dr. Muzyczka is a professor of microbiology and the Edward R. Koger Eminent Scholar for Cancer Research at the University of Florida. He holds 15 U.S. patents.

Dr. Muzyczka was the first scientist to demonstrate the use of an AAV as a vector for transporting the corrective genes used in gene therapy. His work in the field spanned decades and was supported by the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. During this time, two other labs — those of AGTC co-founders Dr. Barry Byrne and Dr. Jude Samulski — conducted experiments on mice showing that the genetic material was long-lasting and would continue working over time. Knowing they were on to something significant, the scientists approached large pharmaceutical companies about conducting clinical trials of gene therapy treatments.

Turned down by these companies, Dr. Muzyczka and four fellow scientists from UF and the University of North Carolina struck out on their own, founding Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation, or AGTC, in 1999. When accepting his award on Tuesday, Dr. Muzyczka honored his colleagues who had “shown him how to use the tools he had created.”

The event also awarded more than 100 inventors who had a technology licensed or optioned in 2016. Those honored are listed in this document. Following the ceremony, inventors and showcase guests participated in a reception at the Hilton.