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New biotechnologies revealed at inaugural Penn State BioTech Discovery Day
1 September 2020

On June 12, the first Penn State BioTech Discovery Day brought together Penn State researchers, industry experts and venture investors for a day of technology reveals and networking opportunities focused on accelerating the transfer of Penn State’s top BioTech innovations to the marketplace. Two reserachers from the Eberly College of Science presented their technologies.

During the event, Penn State researchers connected with biotech experts and investors who offered strategic advice and direct assistance. Having a large number of experts available in real-time created new possibilities and provided actionable feedback to researchers and to Penn State's tech transfer team on how to accelerate advances into the market.

Hosted by Senior Vice President for Research Lora Weiss, the inaugural event featured technologies and faculty from the College of Medicine, the Eberly College of Science, the College of Engineering, and the College of Agricultural Sciences. The Invent Penn State initiative, the Office of Technology Management, and the Office Entrepreneurship and Commercialization developed and supported the event.

“BioTech Discovery Day paired our researchers with industry experts and life science investors who have previously brought biotechnologies to market,” said Weiss. “Our researchers were able to garner crucial feedback, better understand the market potential of their technologies, and begin establishing the kind of industry relationships that will help accelerate their ideas to market entry.”

Associate Department Head for Graduate Education and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
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"Inhibitors of the sigmaE Virulence Pathway as Novel Antibiotics," presented by Ken Keiler in the Eberly College of Science, was one of the technologies presented at the event. According to Keiler, this technology can help prevent bacterial infections when used alone or in combination with existing antibiotics — an uncommon trait in pharmaceuticals. The idea for the technology came from the interests of a Fulbright Scholar from Egypt, Shaima El-Mowafi, who was a graduate student in Keiler’s lab.

“My lab had expertise in high-throughput screening. Shaima had rotated in Dr. Sarah Ades lab, which worked on sigmaE,” said Keiler. “During her graduate work, Shaima developed high-throughput screening assays to identify inhibitors of this pathway from a library of peptide compounds we had. The success of these experiments led us to screen a much larger library of small molecules.”

After presenting, Keiler was contacted by a fund interested in antibiotics for agricultural use; using the technology on animals and plants was outside of Keiler’s focus, which has been on human health. BioTech Discovery Day provided ideas for a potential new avenue to the market, said Keiler.

Keiler had previously worked with the Office of Technology Management to protect and patent his invention. Their past work made collaborating for BioTech Discovery Day an easy thing to do, from preparation to practice, he added.

“It’s a really synergistic relationship," said Keiler. "I don’t have time to look for marketing or development opportunities because I run a lab, teach, and have a wide range of other responsibilities. I rely on the Office of Technology Management to look out for potential partners for my technology, and this forum was an excellent way to do this.”

The Office of Technology Management plays an integral role in accelerating the entry to market for technology created at Penn State. Researchers work with Technology License Officers (TLOs) to identify the novel and unique elements of the invention and work to protect it through patenting and other IP protection. The TLOs also helped to craft and present the commercial market aspects of the technology at the event.

“Penn State researchers and TLOs have always worked together, but collaborating like this is new,” said Office of Technology Management Senior Technology Licensing Officer and Commercialization Strategist Tim Hurley. “If we want to bring technology from lab bench to market, we need to create more opportunities like BioTech Discovery Day for our researchers to interface with industry experts and investors early and often.”

Early responses to the event have been promising enough that the Office of Technology Management and the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization, under the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, are exploring how to do more events like this across more industries, said Associate Vice President for Research James Delattre.

“The feedback from everyone involved with BioTech Discovery Day has been very positive and we’re already planning to host a Materials Discovery Day late this year or early next,” said Delattre. “Penn State is a world leader in materials research, and we’re excited to showcase those innovations.”

The new biotechnologies presented at BioTech Discovery Day and their faculty inventors from the college are:

A full list of presenters can be found here.  To view more emerging Penn State technologies, visit IPNavigator.psu.edu.

Invent Penn State is a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. Invent Penn State blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and university/community/industry collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services that can benefit Pennsylvanians and humankind. Learn more at invent.psu.edu.