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Q&A: How the Technology Advisory Boards help Eberly researchers bring their discoveries to market

13 March 2024
Emily Kuhns

Researchers from across all seven departments in the Eberly College of Science have worked with the college’s Office for Innovation to explore how their research discoveries might translate into products for the benefit of society. For example, the Technology Advisory Boards include volunteer alumni with broad experiences in a variety of disciplines, including biotechnology, physical and chemical sciences, analytics, and software. 

“The Technology Advisory Boards meet with Eberly researchers several times a year and can provide recommendations on a variety of topics, including brainstorming utility, technology development, patenting strategies, and the regulatory environment,” said Emily Kuhns, technology innovation officer in the college’s Office for Innovation. “They also provide guidance to researchers who don’t necessarily think of their work as commercial but who might want to talk about the applications of their work. They are a valuable resource to members of the college at any stage of developing their research.” 

We talked with Kenneth Keiler, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, about his recent meeting with the board and how they have helped guide the application of ideas he has used in antibiotic development to cancer therapeutics.

Why did you want to meet with the Technology Advisory Board this spring?

Ken Keiler

KK:  I have met with the board twice in the past to talk about projects around antibiotic development, and they have been very helpful. However, the cancer space was completely new to me, and even though we are really early in the development of this technology, I jumped at the opportunity to meet with the board again. 

The board consists of alumni from a variety of backgrounds, including people who have done drug discovery at relatively small companies and at large companies as well as people who had raised venture capital for their companies. I don’t know that there is another comparable group of people that I could go to, and even an individual with similar experience would have expensive consulting fees. We are very fortunate to have a group of volunteers who are willing to meet with our faculty and talk about our projects. I think we were scheduled to meet for 45 minutes, and we ended up talking though their entire lunch period as well because they were so excited about the project. 

Can you tell us more about the project you are working on?

KK: For the last 30 years, my lab has studied a cellular pathway in bacteria that we previously developed into antibiotics. We identified a similar system in mitochondria—organelles within cells that have their own set of cellular machinery and DNA—in animal and human cells that we might be able to use to differentially kill cancer cells.

In bacteria, the pathway helps rescue large molecules called ribosomes that sometimes get stuck during the process of making proteins, called translation. This ribosome rescue pathway is critical for the bacteria’s growth and blocking that pathway with small molecule inhibitors leads to the death of the bacteria. We found a similar system in mitochondria, which have specialized ribosomes that are more closely related to bacterial ribosomes than the ribosomes within the rest of the cell.

What guidance or recommendations did the board provide?

KK: The board helped clarify the key experiments or pieces of data that might be the most important for getting a pharmaceutical company interested in this work or for venture capital. We brainstormed a starting plan, patent strategies—including which aspects of the work should be patented—and how to attract funding, both in the early stages and beyond. The board also recommended resources at NIH and in the private sector that may be useful now or 5-10 years down the road.

As researchers, we have a strong tendency approach research in a thorough and exhaustive way that results in publications or sets us up for a grant from federal agencies. This is very different than the rapid, nimble approach required for intellectual property development. And so talking to people who spend their whole lives thinking in a completely different way was just invaluable for me.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

KK: In addition to the Technology Advisory Board, I have really appreciated the support from both the college’s Office for Innovation and the University’s Office of Technology Management. If I had to figure all this out and write patents myself, I would probably put it off or not do much of it. It has been a huge benefit to me to have help from people who really understand this area and can help make the decisions. 


Eberly researchers interested in learning more about the Technology Advisory Board or the Office for Innovation should contact Emily Kuhns at