With more than 20,000 employees, the University of Rochester is, by far, the region’s largest employer and the sixth largest employer in the state. Its growth has been primarily fueled by added employment at the Medical Center and health system, which has risen 34 percent in the last decade.
The potential for health care and university-based biomedical research to spur regional economic growth was center stage in 2011, due an economic development initiative launched in July by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, co-chaired by University of Rochester President Joel Seligman, was formed by the Governor to develop a five-year strategic plan for the nine-county region.
A central theme of the Finger Lakes plan was the importance of the region’s growing health care sector and the need to foster academic-industry research and development partnerships. The region’s high quality and comparatively lower cost health care system – with Medicare and commercial insurers’ costs 20 to 25 percent below the national average – is a key factor attracting companies to expand or relocate to the Finger Lakes.
The Council identified projects that have a direct impact on URMC research and technology commercialization, which earned funding from the state. These include:
- $5 million for the University of Rochester Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation. This proposed $100 million partnership between the University and IBM – two of the state’s largest employers – will enhance Rochester’s position as a center for biomedical research and a magnet for research funding, scientific talent, and industry and academic collaboration. The centerpiece of the partnership will be an array of IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputers creating the world’s most powerful computer system dedicated to biomedical research.
- $2.5 million for the Finger Lakes Business Accelerator Cooperative. This proposal will combine and expand the reach of programs provided by High Tech Rochester (a University of Rochester affiliate), RIT’s Venture Creations, and the region’s small business development centers and industrial development agencies into a comprehensive and coordinated system to support early-stage technology companies. A new hub facility in the Greater Rochester region will enhance the area’s capacity to incubate new life sciences companies.
- The state also awarded $300,000 for the Finger Lakes Health Collaborative, a partnership that includes URMC and will improve health by reducing rates of hypertension.
Implantable Diagnostic Microchip Wins Patent
In November, the Medical Center received a U.S. patent for an implantable “living chip” technology that can provide doctors with more accurate, real-time information on their patients’ health and alert them to changes in condition. The technology, developed by URMC cardiologist Spencer Rosero, M.D., has a vast array of potential applications, including in patients with heart failure to detect changes in blood protein levels or to work in conjunction with other implantable devices such as a wireless defibrillator/pacemaker or insulin pumps. In addition, the company Rosero founded to develop the technology – Physiologic Communications – was acquired by Raland Therapeutics, a Perinton-based firm that focuses on interventional medicine and therapeutic devices.
Clearer Images Lead to New Start-up
A new company was launched to commercialize an imaging technology developed at the Medical Center. Clarelast has licensed a set of software modules and ultrasound probes developed by URMC surgeon Christopher Barry, M.D., Ph.D. These components, which can be used with existing Doppler ultrasound machines, provide physicians and researchers with more accurate and non-invasive readings of the composition of soft tissue, enabling them to determine fat and fiber content of the liver, help distinguish benign and malignant tumors, and identify blood vessel atherosclerosis.
Technology Transfer Offices Tap Social Media
The Medical Center and River Campus Offices of Technology Transfer (OTT) introduced a suite of online social media tools to keep our scientific community and potential industry partners up to date about the University’s intellectual property and technology commercialization activities. The OTT social media platforms, which include a Facebook page, LinkedIn group, Twitter feed, and a blog, offer information about the University’s technology transfer process and how to get involved, profiles of technologies, scientists, and start-up companies, event and funding announcements, and technology commercialization news.
New Patent Law Praised
In September, University officials hailed the President’s signing into law of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act into law. The new law, which has implications for University technology commercialization, makes significant changes that clarify and simplify the U.S. patent application process and harmonize the system with the nation’s major trading partners. Specifically, the law will create new procedures that will improve patent quality and reduce litigation costs. It will also provide the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with the resources necessary to resolve the backlog of patent applications and modernize operations. It currently takes upwards of five years for the office to issue a patent, a delay that hinders efforts to license and commercialize new university technologies.