When John Kopchick discovered a way to inhibit growth hormones in the late ‘80s, it led to the development of a life-saving drug.
The drug the Ohio University professor of molecular biology discovered and developed is used to treat acromegaly, a hormonal disorder with harmful effects such as disfigurement and organ disorders.
“For anyone doing research, if the research can result in helping mankind in any way, what can be better than that?” he said.
Kopchick worked with the university’s Technology Transfer Office to apply for patents for the drug, named SOMAVERT, which was first marketed in 2005 by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
“It’s a wonderful success story,” Kopchick, a distinguished professor, said. “Most importantly, it benefits thousands of patients worldwide. And it also benefits the university financially.”
To date, the drug has generated between $80 and $100 million in research licensing income for the university, office director Bob Silva said.
The office, founded in 1991, helps to make research like Kopchick’s both profitable and accessible. Specifically, it manages and commercializes intellectual property and innovations developed at OU by professors, researchers and some graduate students, Silva said.
“Our main goal is to get the research that’s done here out into the hands of the world, or the country, for good,” Silva said. “We want our research utilized.”
The office works to achieve its goal, he said, by helping faculty acquire patents for technologies, marketing them and licensing them to companies. Often, the office will help connect professors with companies interested in licensing their research.
Research licensing brought in a reported $10.6 million in licensing income for the 2015 fiscal year, Silva said. That income helps fund further research at OU, he said.
David Bayless, Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering at OU, is another faculty member whose research has been commercialized by the Technology Transfer Office. Bayless, who has been a professor at OU since 1995, has six U.S. patents that the office helped obtain, Silva said.
Among those patented technologies is an “electrostatic precipitator” that uses water to remove particles from gases, as well as fuel cell technology and systems for growing algae as a renewable energy source, Bayless said.
Bayless said an advantage of research licensing for engineering is the ability to build relationships with industrial companies.
“If (government agencies) think there’s a commercial company willing to spend money on an idea, they’re more willing to spend federal and state money on research,” he said.
The office doesn’t work alone in its efforts to aid the commercialization of faculty research and technologies: it works with other OU institutions, such as the Innovation Center.
The center provides business incubation resources — such as workspaces, client assistance and expertise to help companies progress — to entrepreneurs in Athens and throughout southeastern Ohio, Innovation Center Director Stacy Strauss said.
The transfer office sometimes refers faculty with inventions to the Innovation Center for business expertise, and other times the center refers faculty to the transfer office for commercialization opportunities, she said.
The office also works with TechGrowth Ohio, a public-private partnership partially sponsored by OU, to help faculty and startup businesses licensing OU research. The program helps startups develop business plans, identify market opportunities and secure investments, program director John Glazer said.
Kopchick also serves as a principal investigator for another one of the office’s partners, the Edison Biotechnology Institute, he said. The institute focuses on research and transferring research to the private sector, according to its website.
Silva said he enjoys working with accomplished professors, such as Bayless and Kopchick.
“That’s the best part of my job, working with all these brilliant people and learning something new every single day,” Silva said