Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Good Company

With a third of Thayer’s tenure-track faculty having founded startups, Dartmouth widens its entrepreneurial door.

By Anna Fiorentino


Illustration by Harry Campbell.

Guided by Thayer professor and serial entrepreneur Tillman Gerngross, Dartmouth recently gave faculty members greater control over inventions and startups stemming from their academic research. Designed to spur entrepreneurial ventures, Dartmouth’s new approach to intellectual property allows professors to retain the rights to their patents in exchange for a 4 percent equity stake in new companies. If professors prefer, they can opt for the old model, in which Dartmouth owns patent rights.

The change makes Dartmouth a trailblazer, as most American colleges and universities have yet to hand over patent rights to professors, says Gerngross, who has just finished a three-year term as vice provost of Dartmouth’s Office of Entrepreneurship & Technology Transfer.

“When I came to Thayer in 1998, entrepreneurship was something that was tolerated, and before that, in the 1990s, I’ve even heard it was frowned upon. Today, it is celebrated,” says Gerngross, the founder of five biotech companies since 2000. In fact, today 33 percent of Thayer’s tenure-track faculty have founded or cofounded companies.

Gerngross predicts that in addition to promoting innovation and facilitating startups, Dartmouth’s revamped intellectual property options  and reconfigured entrepreneurship office will help recruit top faculty to Thayer and Dartmouth. “One of the most important things for an institution like ours is to be competitive in attracting talent,” he says. “It is vital that the office be positioned in the service of faculty and help them have an impact on the world.”

Thayer Professor Karl Griswold, cofounder of startup company Stealth Biologics, underscores that perspective. “Thayer's support of entrepreneurship was a big part of what brought me to Dartmouth,” he says. “Not all schools are like this.”

Four years ago, former Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim asked Gerngross to think about how to transform the technology transfer function at Dartmouth—which included the Technology Transfer Office, Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, and Dartmouth Regional Technology Center—into something more coherent and supportive of the strategic long-term plans for the College. What exactly that meant was open-ended. Gerngross recruited Trip Davis ’90 and unified the three units into the Office of Entrepreneurship & Technology Transfer. Gerngross became vice provost and Davis became executive director. Together they explored new ways to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.

“In the past, the College controlled who inventions were licensed to, and very often inventors wanted something different, putting the faculty in opposition to the office,” says Gerngross. “We said, ‘let’s keep the traditional approach in place, but give faculty a second option.’”

The second option is a win-win for professors and the institution. Professors retain patent rights for their startups, and Dartmouth receives a 4 percent founder’s equity stake in the companies. Professors are free to make their own decisions about their companies, licensing, and lawyers. Dartmouth bears none of the associated expenses and risk but retains a part of the upside.

“We wanted the Tech Transfer Office to be helpful, not a function that is focused on taxing innovators,” says Gerngross. “When you have real insight into something that matters to people, transferring that into something that impacts the world—something that actually leads to a treatment, cure, or device—it is my view that Dartmouth has a responsibility to encourage faculty to see that through, not just focus on publishing or getting grant money.”

Professor Ryan Halter Th’06, who owns startup RyTek Medical, sees advantages to both the new option for faculty control over intellectual property and the old model of Dartmouth holding rights to an invention.

“Taking more ownership of intellectual property will work well for some people but not for others,” Halter says. “Allowing inventors to put money into their own invention incentivizes them to make their company work. The idea is that the company will end up giving back to Dartmouth in some way later on, by reinvesting in academic labs or providing financial assistance.” But, he adds, professors who don’t have money to support a company early on may prefer to have the Tech Transfer Office take control and help with funding.

With innovation-spurring options now in place, Gerngross is stepping down from his vice provost position. That will give him more time to teach—and to run his biotech companies.

The following overviews highlight a few of the startups that Thayer professors have founded to bring the world a range of advances. With several other startups in nascent stages as well, Thayer professors are turning intellectual property into technologies with promise and impact.

 

Professor Tillman Gerngross

Professor Tillman Gerngross
Photograph by Doug Levy.

GlycoFi
Cofounder: Thayer Dean Emeritus Charles Hutchinson
Location: Lebanon, N.H.
Year Founded: 2000
Number of Employees: 65 when GlycoFi was sold to Merck in 2006
What the Company Does: GylcoFi engineers yeast to make fully human glycoproteins with defined glycosylation structures.
Problem Being Solved: GlycoFi makes more potent versions of drugs that cannot be made by other technologies and reduces the cost of manufacturing.
Impact: To date, two drugs have gone into human clinical trials: one for anemia and one for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.
Student Involvement: GlycoFi has hired several Women in Science Project interns, two graduate students worked on aspects of the technology, and the company has employed several Dartmouth alumni.

Adimab
Cofounders: Dane Wittrup, Errik Anderson ’00 Th'06 Tu’07
Location: Lebanon, N.H.
Year Founded: 2007
Number of Employees: 100
What the Company Does: Discovers antibody drugs using a proprietary yeastbased technology.
Problem Being Solved: Filling the need for better technologies for the discovery of novel antibody-based drugs.
Impact: Adimab has more than 100 drug discovery programs with over 30 partners. Two drugs are in clinical trials—one for solid tumors and one for ventilator-associated pneumonia.
Student Involvement: Many of my former students work at Adimab or have interned there.
Long-Term Goal: To retain our position as the world’s leading provider of antibody discovery technology.

Arsanis
Cofounders: Eszter Nagy, Errik Anderson ’00 Th'06 Tu’07
Location: Waltham, Mass., with research in Vienna, Austria
Year Founded: 2010
Number of Employees: 40 employees
What the Company Does: Arsanis discovers and develops monoclonal antibodies that target specific pathogens and pathogenic processes in infectious diseases for which current antibiotics are becoming increasingly ineffective.
Problem Being Solved: The growing public health crisis of antibacterial resistance.
Impact: We have multiple drug programs, with one in clinical trials about to enter Phase 2.
Student Involvement: Tuck students were involved in early assessment of business opportunities.
Long-Term Goal: Arsanis hopes to become a leading anti-infective company that helps the transition into a post-antibiotic era.

Avitide
Cofounders: Kevin Isett Th’11, Warren Kett, Jonathan Sheller ’09
Location: Lebanon, N.H.
Year Founded: 2012
Number of Employees: 25
What the Company Does: Avitide purifies antibodies, vaccines, and other proteins for therapeutic purposes.
Problem Being Solved: Accelerating the pace of clinical pipelines and commercial manufacturing processes for new biopharmaceutical drugs.
Impact: We’ve had multiple collaborations with large pharmaceutical companies.
Student Involvement: The company was cofounded with Thayer PhD graduate Kevin Isett and then-postdoc Warren Kett.
Long-Term Goal: To become the leading supplier of protein purification solutions in the biopharmaceutical industry.

Alector
Cofounders: Arnon Rosenthal, Asa Abeliovich
Location: San Francisco, Calif.
Year Founded: 2013
Number of Employees: 20
What the Company Does: Alector is developing novel antibody-based treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
Problem Being Solved: Curing Alzheimer’s and mechanistically related neurodegenerative diseases.
Impact: Alector has raised over $70 million to pursue multiple drug leads.
Long-Term Goal: Having a substantial impact on neurodegenerative diseases.

 

Professor Ryan Halter Th’06

RyTek Medical Inc.
Location: Lebanon, N.H.
Year Founded: 2011
Number of Employees: 3
What the Company Does: We develop bioimpedance sensing technologies that couple to surgical tools to provide surgeons with enhanced guidance during procedures.
Problem Being Solved: We have two products that are targeted at two different applications. The first is a smart-sensing biopsy needle that is able to detect cancer during the biopsy procedure, instead of having to wait for microscopic review of the tissue. The second is a smart-sensing dental drill that enables oral surgeons to detect critical anatomic structures that they want to avoid, such as nerves and sinuses.
Impact: We are not selling our products yet, but hope to provide a better cancer diagnostic tool to help reduce overdiagnosis of cancer and ensure that patients are treated with appropriate therapies. We also plan to reduce the risk of iatrogenic injuries during dental implant procedures. Our goal is really to provide clinicians with tools that enable them to more optimally treat patients.
Student Involvement: RyTek is currently funded through National Institutes of Health Small Business Technology Transfer grants. Part of these funds are subcontracted out to my Dartmouth lab to support students exploring fundamental aspects of our technology.
Long-Term Goal: Ideally, we will take these technologies to the point that a market leader will be interested in acquiring the technology. Then on to the next technology.

 

Professors Brian Pogue and Scott Davis Th’08

DoseOptics LLC
Cofounder: William Ware Th’94
Location: Lebanon, N.H.
Year Founded: 2015
Number of Employees: 5
What the Company Does: We develop cameras that image the radiation dose as it hits tissue during cancer treatment.
Problem Being Solved: Radiation delivery is an invisible process, where the beam is aimed and launched based on patient positioning and pre-treatment planning, but there is no direct way to visualize radiation dose delivery today. All tools to verify radiation delivery today are indirect, and yet 50 to 60 percent of all cancer patients receive radiation treatment. While delivery accidents are rare, they do happen, and verification of delivery to mitigate errors or quickly recognize them is essential. This camera will help in this process, making radiation therapy safer.
Impact: We are creating the first-ever system to visualize radiation therapy in real time. No other technology allows direct real-time visualization.
Student Involvement: All our employees are Thayer alumni or faculty. We have subcontracted consulting work to an additional three Thayer alumni beyond the current five core employees.
Long-term Goal: We plan to develop unique camera systems that allow this imaging to happen and to license the technology as needed to strategic
partners.

 

Professor Vikrant Vaze

PatientRules
Cofounder: Sujana Chalasani
Location: Hanover, N.H.
Year Founded: 2015
What the Company Does: PatientRules uses operations research and systems engineering tools to facilitate proactive demand and capacity matching in health-system operations to improve upon current scheduling practices and tools.
Problem Being Solved: We solve the critical problem of inefficiencies in health-systems operations due to a mismatch between demand and supply.
Impact: We are at an early stage with the company, and while we have some promising projects ongoing, we hope to have examples of provable impact very soon.
Student Involvement: We have been exploring various opportunities for involving students, especially graduate students in engineering, through things such as early exploratory research, market research, and simulation studies.
Long-Term Goal: To reduce healthcare costs while improving patients’ care access and outcomes.

 

Professor Lee Lynd Th’83 ’87

Professor Lee Lynd
Photograph by Robert Gill.

Enchi Corp.
Cofounder: Bill Bradley
Location: Hanover, N.H.
Year Founded: 2014
What the Company Does: Biofuel production using thermophilic bacteria.
Problem Being Solved: Our technology has the potential to positively impact greenhouse gas mitigation and human development.
Impact: We’ve identified opportunities for potentially transformative reductions in the cost of producing cellulosic biofuels.
Student Involvement: We are working closely with Thayer PhD Innovation Program Fellow Michael Balch, are considering sponsoring projects at Dartmouth, and will consider student internships in the future.
Long-Term Goal: I’m looking to contribute to a transition to a sustainable world.

Mascoma Corp.
Cofounders: Charles Wyman, Bob Johnsen
Location: Lebanon, N.H.
Year Founded: 2006
Number of Employees: 50
What the Company Does: Mascoma focuses on biofuel production and other applications using recombinant yeast.
Problem Being Solved: We are creating engineered yeast for more efficient and lower-cost bioprocessing.   
Impact: We created the first recombinant microorganism in the biofuel industry. These new organisms are used in roughly 30 percent of corn ethanol mills nationwide, routinely increasing ethanol yields from corn by two to three percent, and, to date, producing more than 75 million additional gallons of ethanol that required no additional input of corn. We have also commercially deployed a strain of yeast that ferments cellulosic sugars to ethanol.
Student Involvement: We have extensively supported research by Thayer students, have hired several Thayer alumni, and would likely be open to internships going forward.
Long-Term Goal: We are working to develop new products for the corn, sugar (in Brazil), and cellulosic ethanol production industries to further increase the yields and margins in these industries.

 

Professor Stuart Trembly Th’83

Avedro Inc.
Location: Waltham, Mass.
Year Founded: 2003
Number of Employees: 50
What the Company Does: We develop and commercialize technology for correcting vision disorders.
Problem Being Solved: Giving people nonsurgical options for vision correction.
Impact: In April the company received FDA approval for its system to treat progressive keratoconus (cone-shaped cornea), a sight-threatening vision disorder. This technology can be applied to correct nearsightedness.
Student Involvement: In the early days, four graduate students completed theses related to the Dartmouth-owned technology then licensed by Avedro with financial support from Thayer School Overseer Ralph Crump ’66A and his wife, Marjorie.
Long-Term Goal: The company would like to adapt its FDA-approved technology to treat mild near-sightedness. My own goal is to secure Small Business Innovation Research funding for a new company that I founded in 2014, Sarpedon Medical, for developing new medical devices.

 

Professor Solomon Diamond ’97 Th’98

Lodestone Biomedical
Cofounders: Lidia Valdés ’14 Th’15, Brad Ficko
Location: Hanover, N.H.
Year Founded: 2015
What the Company Does: We’re developing the Iron-Wand, a non-invasive device for diagnosing iron deficiency in children.
Problem Being Solved: Low iron in infants and children can adversely affect brain development and cause lifelong cognitive, motor, and social-emotional deficits. The common way to screen for low iron is with a simple anemia test. The problem is that low iron levels can hurt brain development long before anemia shows up. There is no single accurate and affordable screening test for iron deficiency currently on the market. The best available options are complex and costly blood-iron panels or invasive bone marrow aspirates. Our device measures the iron content of bone marrow magnetically. We aim to make iron status assessment quick and painless with immediate and accurate results.
Impact: The company is too young and the problem of iron deficiency is too entrenched for our impact to be felt at this stage. We have a long road ahead of us in establishing the clinical validity of testing with our device and learning how it can help improve outcomes.
Student Involvement: The cofounder and current CEO of the company, Lidia Valdés, is a recent graduate. Our research at Thayer on the magnetic properties of iron in bone marrow will afford opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student involvement in the future.
Long-term Goal: Our goal is to redefine the gold standard for assessing iron status. We hope the Iron-Wand will lead to new understandings about iron deficiency, its management, and connections between iron, health, nutrition, and brain development. 

 

Professor John Zhang

NanoLite Systems
Cofounder: Ting Shen
Location: Austin, Tex.
Year Founded: 2012
Number of Employees: 30
What the Company Does: We perform point-of-care diagnostics through blood tests.
Problem Being Solved: We do early cancer diagnostics and management.
Impact: NanoLite has developed automated instruments for screening circulating tumor cells in blood that are currently under clinical trials.
Student Involvement: We offer internship, research, and development opportunities for students at various levels.
Long-Term Goal: We hope to become a leading company in precision healthcare.

 

Professor Laura Ray
Photograph by Karen Endicott.

Professor Laura Ray

Clarisond Inc.
Cofounders: Chris Pearson Th’02, Caroline Cannon
Location: Salem, N.H.
Year Founded: 2013
What the Company Does: Signal processing to improve medical ultrasound imaging.
Problem Being Solved: Mammography fails to detect lesions in women with mammographically dense breast tissue because both the lesion and the tissue appear white. Ultrasound improves detection for these women, but also increases the rate of false positives. We are solving the problem of false positives by improving contrast and resolution of ultrasound imaging.
Student Involvement: Our VP for research, Matt Pallone ’07 Th’13, is a graduate of Thayer’s PhD Innovation Program.

 

Professor Karl Griswold

Professor Karl Griswold
Photograph by John Sherman.

Stealth Biologics LLC
Cofounder:
Dartmouth Computer Science Professor Chris Bailey-Kellogg
Location: Virtual
Year Founded: 2013
What the Company Does: We design protein drugs for treating human disease.
Problem Being Solved: Unlike conventional drugs, protein drugs are subject to immune surveillance in the human body. The body may mistake a therapeutic protein for a dangerous invader and attack it. Our company re-engineers therapeutic proteins to evade the human immune system—thus the name Stealth Biologics.
Impact: We’re still an early-stage company, and we don’t yet have drugs in the clinic. In preclinical studies, we’ve shown that deimmunized drugs are safer and more effective than their unmodified counterparts. We’ve designed at least two different drug candidates that will soon enter advanced preclinical studies, the final stage before human trials.
Student Involvement: Students, postdocs, and scientists at Dartmouth contributed to the development and testing of an internally generated drug candidate: an enzyme designed to kill drug-resistant bacterial pathogens. The development of this compound was supported by a National Institutes of Health Small Business Technology Transfer grant, which fosters collaboration between companies and academic institutions.
Long-term Goal: We hope to use our deimmunization technologies to similarly expand the frontier of highly potent yet safe protein drugs derived from non-antibody molecules.

Anna Fiorentino is senior writer at Dartmouth Engineer.

Categories: Features

Tags: alumni, energy, engineering in medicine, entrepreneurship, faculty, innovation, research

comments powered by Disqus