David Schneider, M.D., working in his lab at University of Vermont, Larner College of Medicine (Photo: David Seaver)
It has been said that the engines for many economies are fueled by innovation. For universities, and medical schools in particular, the incentive for generating ideas to take to market has never been greater. A recent Facts and Factors market research report estimates the global medical device market reached $471 billion in 2020 and projects it will reach approximately $623 billion by 2026.
Faculty and staff at the University of Vermont’s (UVM) Larner College of Medicine are encouraged to engage in biomedical innovation. The rapid growth in this arena has significantly influenced UVM’s strategic pursuit of research and scholarly discoveries across a broad range of fields over the past few years, and resulted in historic increases in research awards and UVM’s ranking as a Top 100 Public Research University in the United States.
Essential to the process of soliciting funding is the establishment of intellectual property (IP) and technology development, areas where UVM has enjoyed dramatic increases recently.
In the past five years, 53 out of 162 patents were issued and 43 UVM-founded companies and institutions have active licenses from UVM and are commercializing the technologies.
As director of UVM Innovations, Corine Farewell, D.V.M., M.B.A., leads a team that provides guidance and support to the academic community on all aspects of protecting and commercializing university innovations. Farewell’s team helps unearth the commercial potential of an innovation, brings together UVM investigators with world class IP attorneys to protect IP, and market it to potential licensees.
“Intellectual curiosity is the fuel for our knowledge-based economy, with intellectual property providing the tangible assets for successful technology translation from the lab to market,” said Farewell. “Innovation and entrepreneurship are a fast-growing component of everyday life at UVM,” she added.
Farewell hailed the Larner College of Medicine as a vanguard of this movement, and said Larner “was the first college at UVM to support technology transfer.” She noted that Larner has been fully supportive of technology transfer over the past decade, supporting patents and commercialization of faculty research, which has led to several successful startups.
Recent examples of commercially successful innovations by Larner faculty include a suicide risk assessment program called Wiser Systems, a biologic treatment for ischemic injury called Samba Biologics, an advanced diagnostic technology for atrial arrhythmias called CoreMap, and Prolocor, a startup company focused on developing a more precise method and diagnostic tool for assessing and managing risk in cardiovascular disease.
Prolocor was co-founded by David Schneider, M.D., professor of medicine, medical director of cardiovascular services for the UVM Health Network, and director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute of Vermont. Prolocor’s team created a new predictive test to measure FcyRIIa, a biomarker found on the surface of platelets, blood cells that clump to form clots to stop bleeding, and which — if they block blood vessels supplying the heart or brain — can cause strokes and heart attacks.
Schneider’s experience makes him uniquely positioned to talk about the challenges of bringing a medical idea to market. He served on a panel at UVM’s 2023 Research Week titled “The Road Less Traveled,” which featured UVM researchers who discussed their experiences trying to bring a service or product to market.
“The process begins by identifying a critical gap in our ability to care for patients and filling that gap,” said Schneider. “We completed an initial proof of concept at UVM demonstrating the potential value of the test we developed … and while [the] science is primarily in the early stages, the business aspects of advancing one’s ideas take priority very quickly thereafter. If our clinical validation is successful, Prolocor is positioned to improve the care of patients by offering the first precision test to guide cardiovascular care,” he said.
Securing funding is an ongoing challenge for startups.
“While we have had some success combining NIH funding with traditional funding….we are seeking additional Series A funding…and raising money is never far down the priority list,” admitted Schneider. “Fortunately, UVM supports this effort,” he said. Schneider received an initial grant from SPARK-VT, a UVM initiative designed to facilitate the discovery-to-innovation-to-commercialization process.
UVM Innovations also plays a vital role in introducing UVM startups to an ecosystem of other entrepreneurs, investors, and potential business partners, who can help build the necessary infrastructure and operations and facilitate a startup’s ability to successfully attract additional financing and operational expertise.
“Industry partnerships are essential to success and addressing the business aspects of taking our test to market,” Schneider said. “We are very fortunate that LabCorp has taken an interest in our test and invested in our seed round…and we are excited about the opportunity to partner and make our test available to improve the care of our patients.”
While Prolocor’s test is still at a very early stage of the process, Schneider said the team is making consistent progress.
“If our clinical validation is successful, Prolocor is positioned to improve the care of patients by offering the first precision test to guide cardiovascular care,” he said. “Ultimately our goal is to improve care rather than run a company.”