University of Florida researchers made more discoveries and licensed more technologies than ever in the fiscal year just ended, despite the coronavirus pandemic influencing the third and fourth quarters.
Researchers disclosed 393 new discoveries and UF Innovate | Tech Licensing signed a record 132 licenses and options, up from 331 disclosures and 122 licenses last year. Faculty also earned a record $900.7 million in research funding this fiscal year.
“As we reflect on the past four to five months dealing with COVID, to have a record year, a record number of deals, despite that is incredible,” said Jim O’Connell, assistant vice president of UF Innovate. “I also don’t want to lose sight of the record number of disclosures because that’s a measure of engagement – how much our faculty will work with us.”
An invention disclosure is a confidential description of a new discovery that a researcher submits to Tech Licensing to both protect it (via a patent, copyright, or trademark) and begin the commercialization process. The goal is to identify a way to use the scientific or engineering invention to meet a market need, which may result in a startup or a larger company licensing the technology.
“After we were forced by the pandemic to shut down many of our research endeavors in March, there was always a concern that the challenges of COVID 19 would distract us from the pursuits of our institution,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “It is amazing to see how, time after time, UF researchers and staff remain focused and committed to our mission to discover and realize impact through technology licensing and other translational activities.”
About 20 inventions disclosed to UF Innovate since February directly contribute to the fight against COVID-19. Researchers from a variety of departments across the university campus created apps, specialized masks and face shields, mechanical treatments to aid patient airways, therapies, vaccines, and point-of-care COVID tests.
Some of the coronavirus technologies went into use early in the pandemic. When state governments feared they would run out of ventilators, for example, one team of UF inventors created an open-source ventilator they built out of inexpensive parts from Home Depot. When respiratory masks used by health workers were in short supply, another UF team developed masks using sterile wrapping surrounding surgical instruments typically discarded after use.
“Despite all the adversity and people having to work from home, there was no slowing, no stopping. Instead, our researchers looked for solutions to COVID-19, and people in Tech Licensing produced in amazing fashion,” said John Byatt, associate director for UF Innovate | Tech Licensing. “Kudos all around.”
UF formed 16 startups, up from 14 the previous year. Nine of the 16 new companies are located in Florida. Agriculture Intelligence, located in Fort Meyers, licensed artificial intelligence technology that automates the labor-intensive tap sample method for monitoring the Asian citrus psyllid population. The pin-sized psyllids can infect fruit trees with deadly citrus greening disease.
Florida citrus production has declined more than 70 percent since greening arrived in the state in 2005. Monitoring the psyllid population using AI, Agriculture Intelligence can generate maps with psyllid detections for each tree so growers can apply the right amount of pesticides only where needed, to reduce the environmental impact and protect the trees from citrus greening.
Gene therapy researchers Shannon Boye, Ph.D., and Sanford Boye founded another of the new startups. Their research using the adeno-associated virus to treat genetic diseases in the eye is foundational for Atsena Therapeutics. The startup is a clinical-stage gene therapy company seeking to reverse or prevent blindness in children who have GUCY2D-associated Leber congenital amaurosis, a leading cause of blindness in children.
“This was a record-breaking year for UF Innovate, and for all of UF’s research and commercialization efforts,” said O’Connell. “The Bush Institute ranked our efforts as first in the nation in terms of productivity, and Sid Martin Biotech again – for the third time – earned the title ‘Best Global Incubator’ for 2020.
“That reflects on our efforts, but also reflects on the quantity and quality of research generated by our faculty and culture we’ve fostered here at the University of Florida.”
In June, the George W. Bush Institute and Opus Faveo rank UF No. 1 for large universities in innovation productivity. The International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) awarded its highest honor – the Randall M. Whaley Incubator of the Year award – to UF Innovate | Sid Martin Biotech.