image title

ASU is among the leaders in patents granted, startups launched

April 6, 2021

Arizona State University, through Skysong Innovations, continues to achieve high rankings in technology transfer metrics. The latest read on this comes from the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM). According to AUTM’s most recent survey (fiscal year 2019), ASU was fourth in patents granted, fourth in startup companies launched and third in inventions disclosed when compared with other universities without a medical school. 

The AUTM report is an annual survey of the performance of technology transfer offices around the country. Skysong Innovations is the intellectual property management and technology transfer organization for ASU.

With 129 patents awarded in FY19, ASU is No. 4 (out of 58 universities and colleges in this peer group) behind MIT, North Carolina State University and California Institute of Technology and ahead of Purdue University, Carnegie Mellon University, the Rochester Institute of Technology and Princeton University. Patents are one measure of how well an institution can identify and move new scientific ideas from the lab into the marketplace. 

With 18 startup companies generated, ASU ranked No. 4 (of 58 universities and colleges), behind only MIT, Caltech and Purdue and ahead of Carnegie Mellon, Princeton and the University of Georgia. Startups are a measure of an idea entering the market through the formation of a company dedicated to developing that innovation. 

A third category ASU did well in was invention disclosures. ASU had 301 invention disclosures in FY19, putting it at No. 3 (of 58 universities and colleges). ASU was behind only MIT and Purdue University in this measure and ahead of Caltech, North Carolina State and Iowa State University. An invention disclosure is an innovation or technology submitted by an ASU researcher for potential commercialization.

In addition to these measures, ASU startups raised more than $100 million in outside investments in FY19 and, to date, have raised almost $1 billion to develop technologies invented by ASU faculty and researchers. ASU was one of five universities without a medical school ranking in the top 10 for issued patents, startups launched, inventions disclosed, and licenses and options, along with MIT, Carnegie Mellon, North Carolina State and Purdue.    

“These survey findings are representative of one of the most critical areas of ASU’s charter — that of advancing research and discovery of public value,” said Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. “We take great pride in moving our research from the lab to the classroom and into society with speed and scale where it has impact and helps solve some of the most pressing challenges we face as a global community.” 

“ASU researchers are tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges, from sustainable resources and carbon capture to cancer detection and treatment,” added Augie Cheng, Skysong Innovations CEO and chief legal officer. “Skysong Innovations identifies those technologies with broad commercial potential and coordinates with the right partners to bring these innovations into the marketplace.”

Metabolism analysis on the run

One of the patents awarded in FY19 was for a “metabolic analyzer” developed by Erica Forzani and the late N.J. Tao. This device provides a method for weight and/or fitness management by measuring a person’s metabolic data including oxygen and carbon dioxide during exercise or at rest. 

The pocket-held device is licensed to the startup Breezing. It is marketed as the first portable device that can track an individual’s metabolism and use that information to provide diet and exercise recommendations for maintaining or reaching a healthy weight.

The device analyzes a human’s exhalations and transmits that information to an integrated app on a cellphone or tablet via Bluetooth. The user can then apply that information to customize a diet or exercise program through the app that will help achieve personal weight goals. 

The device works via “indirect calorimetry,” the preferred measurement method of the American Dietetic Association, World Health Organization and other institutions. Traditional indirect calorimeters are bulky, difficult to use and usually found only in doctor’s offices. Breezing replaces all that with a simple, handheld device based on cutting-edge sensor technology.

A blood test for cancer in dogs

A second patent from FY19 pertains to diagnosing cancer in dogs. The new method, developed by the Biodesign Institute’s and School of Life Sciences' Stephen Johnston, is used for diagnosing and characterizing lymphoma utilizing patient antibodies bound to peptide microarrays in comparison to an immunosignature characteristic of a lymphoma state or a nonlymphoma state. 

A single blood test capable of diagnosing cancer with high sensitivity and specificity would enhance patient care by streamlining the diagnostic process. A serological test for monitoring lymphoma could be used at multiple stages: early detection, diagnosis and monitoring of residual disease.

Spontaneous canine lymphoma and human non-Hodgkin lymphoma have nearly identical presentations and pathologies, making them ideal partner species in which to explore blood-based diagnostics. A serological test would facilitate routine monitoring during an annual wellness exam, enable faster diagnosis when lymphoma is suspected and allow monitoring of lymphoma following treatment. Design of such a test for lymphoma is dependent on the identification of an appropriate biomarker.

Startups to save lives

One of the startup companies launched in FY19 is OncoMyx Therapeutics, founded by Grant McFadden of the Biodesign Institute. OncoMyx develops cancer therapeutics based on the myxoma virus, which is a highly immuno-interactive virus that can selectively infect and kill a broad range of cancer cell types. McFadden is a pioneer in the field of oncolytic virotherapy that can successfully program a virus to infect and kill cancer while leaving normal cells unharmed.

As a virus that is nonpathogenic to humans, myxoma does not have to overcome preexisting immunity. With a large genome, myxoma is ideal for multi-arming, creating a precision medicine approach with a unique oncolytic virus that activates the cancer immunity cycle and expands the therapeutic effectiveness of immunotherapies.

McFadden and his collaborators have spent the past two decades evaluating the myxoma virus as a cancer-fighting agent in a wide variety of tumor models. The natural target of the virus is the European rabbit, in which it causes a lethal disease. Because it only grows in rabbit cells or cancer cells, it would not infect healthy human tissue. In humans, the virus is harmless, except when it encounters a cancer cell. McFadden’s research team has successfully targeted various types of cancers.

Autism diagnosis and treatment

A second startup from FY19 is Autism Diagnostics, a company founded by ASU’s James Adams, a professor in ASU’s School of Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, working with Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown of the Biodesign Institute and a professor in ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. 

The company is working to produce the first biomedical test for diagnosing autism. It has also developed two metabolomic tests for autism that can also assess treatment efficacy in clinical trials. Therefore, the test could diagnose children while also helping to guide personalized medical interventions.

The company received first place for best startup opportunity in a universitywide competition at ASU in November 2019.  

Top photo: A solar cell printed with "ASU." Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU News

ASU professor delivers Einstein Public Lecture in Mathematics

Abba Gumel delivers public lecture on 'Mathematics of Infectious Diseases' during the American Mathematical Society’s Spring Eastern Sectional Meeting

April 6, 2021

Abba Gumel, Foundation Professor of mathematics in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University, delivered virtually the American Mathematical Society’s 2021 Einstein Public Lecture in Mathematics on March 20, during the AMS Spring Eastern Sectional Meeting.

The AMS Einstein Public Lecture in Mathematics began in 2005, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's "annus mirabilis" when he published four fundamental papers that changed the course of 20th-century physics. During his “year of miracles,” Einstein wrote a series of papers that transformed the way we see the universe, including his theory of special relativity and the famous equation E=mc². Abba Gumel, Foundation Professor of Mathematics Abba Gumel, Foundation Professor of Mathematics. Download Full Image

“It is an immense honor for Professor Abba Gumel to be chosen to deliver such a prestigious lecture," said Donatella Danielli, professor and school director. “Our school congratulates Abba on this recognition of his excellent work, which provides insight into the transmission dynamics and control of infectious diseases, and highlights the significant role mathematics plays in helping to solve the world’s most challenging problems.”

“Associating anyone's name with Albert Einstein is always a great and humbling honor,” Gumel said. “Being chosen for this lecture means a lot to me, and also to the many students from high school, undergraduate and graduate levels, postdoctoral researchers and collaborators from around the world that I have had the privilege of working with over the course of my career. It is also an immense honor to our school and university.”

With the coronavirus pandemic accounting for over 2.8 million deaths worldwide, Gumel’s lecture, “Mathematics of Infectious Diseases,” could not have been more relevant. The lecture focused on the use of mathematical approaches to provide realistic insight into the transmission dynamics and control of emerging and reemerging diseases of major public health significance.

The talk covered the history of the use of mathematics in epidemiology, dating back to the pioneering works of Daniel Bernoulli, who modeled the effectiveness of immunization strategies against smallpox in the 1760s.

Smallpox is one of the only two vaccine-preventable diseases that has been eradicated. Gumel discussed how Sir Ronald Ross explained the complete life cycle of the parasite that causes malaria and was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1902. The talk also included William Kermack and Anderson McKendrick, two biochemists and epidemiologists who laid the foundation for the mathematical theory of epidemics in the 1920s. The lecture showcased the many contributions to the concerted global effort to eradicate malaria by 2040, as well as the current effort to eliminate COVID-19 in the U.S.

Gumel dedicated the lecture in memory of Professor Lee Lorch (1915–2014), who, in addition to being a brilliant mathematician, was an icon of human rights, equity, justice and equal educational opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities. His decadeslong struggle for civil rights and educational opportunities cost him four academic appointments in the U.S. and other personal costs, necessitating his self-exile to Canada. 

Gumel’s own academic adviser was a former student of Lorch. While doing postdoctoral work at the Fields Institute in Toronto, Gumel was often introduced by Lorch as his "academic grandchild."

“He was a major influence in my life,” Gumel said. “We were very close, both professionally and personally. It was an immense honor to have known such a giant icon of civil rights and empowerment of women and people of color.”

Gumel received his PhD in mathematics from Brunel University, England, in 1994, and was professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba, Canada, from 1999 to 2014. He is a fellow of the ASU-Santa Fe Institute for Biosocial Complex Systems, African Academy of Science and Nigerian Academy of Science.

The first Einstein Lecture was delivered in fall 2005 by Sir Michael Atiyah, winner of both a Fields Medal and an Abel Prize. The lecture was aimed at the general public and was extremely successful. That tradition of very broad appeal has continued and a history of previous lectures, as well as Gumel’s 2021 lecture, can be found on the AMS website.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences