If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to sees it, did it happen? And if researchers make discoveries with commercial potential but don’t protect and license their inventions, will they ever reach the market?

Unlikely, says University of Iowa Research Foundation (UIRF) Executive Director Marie Kerbeshian, who is also an assistant vice president in the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR).

“Research and scholarship have tremendous value all on their own,” Kerbeshian said. “They build knowledge and understanding about the world we live in. But patenting and licensing intellectual property is a critical first step toward winning the federal grants and attracting the private investment needed to enable faculty and staff to take their ideas from the labs out into the world.”

That relationship paid dividends recently when one UI startup and one UI entrepreneur won top honors at the Iowa Biotechnology Association’s annual meeting April 30.

Michael Abramoff, M.D., Ph.D., the Robert C. Watzke, M.D., professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and CEO and founder of Coralville-based IDx, received the 2019 Cultivation Corridor Iowa Biotech Leader Award as part of the Iowa Biotechnology Association’s annual conference April 30. And Cardio Diagnostics, a startup launched with support from the UIRF, beat nine other competitors—four of them also UI startups—to win the IBA’s Emerging Companies Showcase.

Abramoff’s Iowa Biotech Leader Award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated leadership within an organization and industry; an ability to bring innovative biotech products and services to market; and a commitment to advancing the state’s biotech industry.

Abramoff, who has joint appointments in the departments of electrical and computer engineering and the Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering, has spent years developing autonomous artificial intelligence (AI) systems capable of making medical decisions by themselves, including IDx-DR, the first-ever FDA-cleared autonomous AI that makes a clinical decision without human oversight. Over the course of his career he’s received around 16 patents, with many more pending and numerous awards and honors for his research.

The technology IDx uses was invented by Abramoff and his team at the UI, and the UIRF patented it and licensed it to his company, Kerbeshian said. This not only protects the intellectual property but can lead to funding that is shared with the university, allowing it to support future entrepreneurial research and scholarship.

Of the 10 Iowa startups vying for the award IBA Emerging Companies Showcase award, five have UI connections. In addition to the winner, Cardio Diagnostics, Emmyon Inc. and Voxello (which emerged from the Iowa Medical Innovation Group) have licensed their technologies through the UIRF, while two others—VerdiLife LLC and OmniLife Inc. (formerly HealthTech Solutions)—were begun by UI students through the UI’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

Cardio Diagnostics, founded in 2017 after licensing IP with the UIRF, is a pioneer in integrated genetic and epigenetic-based tests for Precision Medicine diagnosis, risk assessment, and personalized treatment of cardiovascular disease. Through the coupling of DNA testing from a single drop of blood with Artificial Intelligence, Cardio Diagnostics allows primary care practitioners to determine each individual’s unique environmental and genetic risks for leading causes of death, including coronary heart disease.

Cardio Diagnostics is led by co-founder, co-inventor of technologies, and CEO Meesha Dogan, Ph.D., an adjunct assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the UI. Other key team members include Robert Philibert, M.D., Ph.D., co-inventor of technologies at Cardio Diagnostics and professor of psychiatry at the UI with adjunct appointments in genetics, neuroscience, and biomedical engineering; Mike Levin, M.A., chief financial officer; and Dr. Amaury Lendasse, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of industrial and systems engineering at the UI.

The IBA was founded in 1994 to unify Iowa's bioscience industry, academic research institutions and economic development organizations. The group represents more than 100 members spanning across Iowa who are vested in Iowa and in the biotech industry.

The University of Iowa Research Foundation is part the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research provides researchers and scholars with resources, guidance, and inspiration to secure funding, collaborate, innovate, and forge frontiers of discovery that benefit everyone. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover

Contacts: 

Stephen Pradarelli, Office of the Vice President for Research, 3193841282