Life-Science Projects Continue to Fill U-M Tech Transfer’s Commercialization Pipeline

The University of Michigan’s robust research projects in the life sciences continue to fill the commercialization pipeline at the U-M Office of Technology Transfer.

“Roughly half of the startups spun out of the University are life-science companies focused on therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostics, health information technology or research tools,” says Dave Repp, assistant director of the Venture Center in U-M Tech Transfer. He reports 11 of the 21 startups that entered into licensing agreements for U-M technology in the 2018 fiscal year were life-science companies.

The steady growth of life-science licensing opportunities and spinouts stems in part from the University’s long history of competence in that space, according to Repp. Government funding for life-science research is another factor driving growth in the sector.

“The U-M ranks third in the country in federal funding from the National Institutes of Health, which provided $593 million to support the University’s life-science research in 2017,” Repp explains. “Michigan also is the largest single contributor of research leading to FDA-approved drugs of any academic institution.” Pfizer’s legacy of research facilities and industry talent significantly enhanced the University’s expertise in drug development, he notes.

In the coming year, Repp expects to see continuing strong investments in therapeutics and drug discovery. Predictive analytics is another facet of the life sciences that is starting to blossom on the Ann Arbor campus.

“The Michigan Institute for Data Science, or MIDAS, is applying Big Data and machine learning to life-science problems, so we are beginning to see more startups emerge in that space,” Midas notes. “As collaboration increases across various University institutes and departments, health information technology will ramp up fairly quickly.”

On the physical-science side, the U-M has developed unique competencies in specialized areas such as low-power integrated circuits.

“The University is a world leader in developing computer chips that consume very little power,” Repp explains. “This is important when you think about battery life in a phone or about the electronics that are becoming ubiquitous across different applications in your home.” Over the last few years, the U-M has spun out a number of innovative computer-chip startups that have gained considerable traction in the marketplace.

Cybersecurity also has emerged as a big play in the University and Ann Arbor entrepreneurial ecosystem.

During the Tech Transfer Pitch Track at the 2019 Midwest Venture Capital Symposium, on May 14 and 15, ventures investors will get a preview of early-stage projects and startup companies emerging from the University of Michigan and other major research institutions.

“I think 2019 is shaping up to be another prolific year in terms of startups,” Repp predicts. “At U-M Tech Transfer, we already have launched seven startups in the 2019 fiscal year (which began July 1, 2018), and there are many more in the pipeline. We’re also seeing increasing investor activity and interest in these projects.”